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Student-led coding course increases accessibility

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With the help of Professor Olaf Hall-Holt, Maria Kloiber ’20 and Hannah Dettman ’20 designed a class called “Code Camp,” which teaches students without background in computer science how to code.

“We wanted to create a less intimidating environment for students with no experience at all to join,” Dettman said.

Kloiber and Dettman hope that this class will ignite interest in computer science among students and give them basic coding skills that they can apply to their own fields of study.

According to a report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, among students who choose computer science majors, few are women or from underrepresented groups. This reality brought Kloiber and Dettmann together to change the way computer science is perceived in the St. Olaf community.

Like many colleges, St. Olaf has few students enrolled in the computer science major. Dettman believes this is due to the fact that the introductory computer science courses are set up for students with previous  experience.

In an increasingly technological society, coding is one simple skill that can help graduates stand out in the job market.

“You don’t need a formal education to learn how to code, if you have any skills, people will give you a chance,” Dettman said. She spent last summer interning with Google.

According to Kloiber, Code Camp aims to be an enjoyable and low-commitment class that deconstructs barriers, makes computer science more accessible and serves as an outlet for students to use coding to create projects they are passionate about.

Code Camp is an initiative sponsored by the To Include is To Excel grant, which hopes to engage students from all backgrounds. With the money granted, the computer science department hired student workers to help them teach as many students as would like to take the class.

Michelle Phung ’20, one of the computer science majors hired to help run the course, hopes to create an accessible coding culture in the St. Olaf community.

“I hope that people can see that coding is not scary,” Phung said. “I know some people make it seem like it’s hard, but it’s actually very easy and fun.”

For the next three weeks, Code Camp will open its doors for whoever wants to join. They meet every Monday from 8-9 p.m. at the World Language Center. The course will be offered every semester.

Kloiber, Dettman and Phung hope to help their students create a project that they are proud to show to their friends and employers, and they encourage students to attend.