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On virtual community-building with Stony Brook's ACM-W chapter

On virtual community-building with Stony Brook's ACM-W chapter

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Tags: Computing education programs, Computing organizations

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It's been almost a year since many universities suddenly found their students fully virtual due to COVID-19. How have student chapters reacted to this change? We explored this question with the Stony Brook ACM-W chapter, which also goes by the name Women in Computer Science (WiCS). Stony Brook WiCS has aimed to foster diversity and inclusion in technology while encouraging involvement from female and non-binary students for more than 14 years. However, this year's events have looked slightly different from over a decade of past in-person club events.

To maintain their now fully-virtual community, the Stony Brook ACM-W chapter has taken to Discord to host game nights and enable members to chat or review each other's resumes. Other events have been a mix of professional and social events: seminars on imposter syndrome and workplace communication, movie nights, study sessions, and speed-friending meetings. In addition, WiCS expanded their mentoring program this year, pairing upper-level students with one to two first-year or second-year students. Mentees can reach out to their mentors to discuss life, course-work, careers, and more, while mentors gain valuable leadership experience and communication skills. These one-on-one interactions also help strengthen the broader feeling of community within WiCS.

However, WiCS's events don't stop at providing opportunities for their members alone. This year, Stony Brook's WiCS built on previous Hour of Code events of inviting middle-school students to campus. Instead of an in-person meetup, WiCS hosted a virtual Python Turtles workshop for students in underserved communities near campus. "Especially because of the current circumstances, we believe that it is even more important to give back and provide resources for children to continue learning and developing essential technical skills that will help them in the future, no matter what career path they decide to pursue in the end," says Tina Wong, the current WiCS vice president. "Even though our volunteers were not able to walk around the room to help students that were struggling as they would have if it were in person, it was a joy to see that students were not afraid to ask questions and share the art that they have created during the limited time that we had together," she concluded.

Another event that WiCS is proud of is their annual hackathon, Hack-Health. Being remote this year has provided the new opportunity for hackers outside of Stony Brook to join its sixth iteration. HackHealth is a beginner-friendly hackathon encouraging students to address health-related issues in topics such as nutrition, fitness, and mental health while learning new skills through workshops. Some past projects created by attendees include a virtual reality application improving accessibility for users with physical limitations, and an anonymous social media platform enabling users to receive peer therapy for mental illness. HackHealth's success led to its designation as the Most Outstanding Event by Stony Brook University's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences during the 2018–2019 academic year.

Notable challenges associated with newly virtual events include dealing with everyone's Zoom fatigue and overcoming the increased difficulty involved in recruiting new members. To recruit, despite this year's lack of typical student club fairs, WiCS promoted the club in the first week of courses for first years; this led to even better turnout than previous years. For those who may be seeking to build a virtual community where there is none right now, the Stony Brook ACM-W chapter suggests reaching out to your local community to learn how you can best support members while virtually maintaining your mission and values. We also hope that this exploration of how Stony Brook WiCS has manged to thrive online may help inspire you.

Daniela Zieba

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UF1Figure. Members of Stony Brook WiCS celebrating the fifth anniversary of HackHealth.

back to top  Sidebar: Stony Brook WiCS at a Glance

School: Stony Brook Universtiy

Chapter Name: Stony Brook Women in Computer Science (WiCS)

Location: Stony Brook, NY, USA

Website: https://www3.cs.stonybrook.edu/~wics/

Current Board Members: Cynthia Lee (President); Tina Wong (Vice President); Anna Zhang (Secretary); Regina Wong (Treasurer); Jo Gao (Graphic Designer); Katheryn Martinez Hernandez (Public Relations Secretary); Christina Low (Webmaster); Sabrina Yang (Event Committee Chair); Tracy Su (Event Committee Member); Jendy Ren (Event Committee Member); Fiona Tong (Event Committee Member)

Current Total Membership: 1,000

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