Solon High School (SHS) teacher, Daniel McKeen, aims to close the gender gap in the field of Computer Science

SHS senior Kiera Hale works on her code for her AP Computer Science assignment.

SHS senior Kiera Hale works on her code for her AP Computer Science assignment.

Hannah Levenson, Editor in Chief

Solon High School’s AP Computer Science program was recently awarded the College Board’s AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award for the 2021-2022 school year. In order for a school to receive this award, the school must have reached 50% female representation or higher in at least one AP Computer Science course. SHS is only one of 209 schools in the nation to be recognized with this honor in the course of Computer Science A.

SHS offers two AP Computer Science classes, AP Computer Science Principles and AP Computer Science A. AP Computer Science Principles focuses on introducing students to the world of computer science beyond programming in fields such as 3-D animation, engineering, music, visual design, robotics or political science. After completion of this course, students can advance on to AP Computer Science A, which focuses on introducing students to abstractions, algorithms, digital information, the Internet, the creative aspects of programming, cybersecurity concerns and computing impacts of society and culture.

Daniel McKeen, who teaches AP Computer Science A, has been teaching computer science courses at SHS for 21 years. When he first started teaching computer science courses, he had a limited number of female students.

“In my first year in 2002, I had two female students across all my AP [Computer Science] classes,” McKeen said. “I thought that was absurd, how do I only have two [girls] out of all my AP classes?”

McKeen did research to try and figure out why there was a lack of female students in AP Computer Science courses. McKeen found that when he asked other SHS Computer Science teachers, he was told, “that’s how it is, I have one or two girls in all of my computer science courses.”

McKeen then sought to close the female representation gap in his courses. He found that the simplest solution was to directly invite female students to take the course, in other words, making sure that the class was advertised as an option. McKeen found that he would have female students in his courses if they were invited, and the opposite was true if female students were not invited to take the course.

“It seems kinda odd,” said McKeen. “[But I believed it], so I started sending out invitations. I asked all the math teachers to recommend female students who they thought would be good at [computer science] and sent them invitations. I asked all the current students [of computer science] to tell me who they know, who might be interested. I sent out the same number of invites to male and female students, and the number of female students [in computer science courses] started going up.”

To further promote more young women becoming involved with computer science, SHS has a Girls Who Code club, which is advised by McKeen. SHS senior Amy Duan, who is the president of Girls Who Code, has taken McKeen’s AP Computer Science A course and is currently taking other computer science courses such as C++ and App Development.

Duan also plans to major in Computer Science at Duke University. She credited her passion to her teacher, McKeen.

“I think taking these computer science courses at Solon, especially with Mr. McKeen [helped me find my passion],” Duan said. “[He] really helped me find my passion in computer science as a field, and that’s currently what I’m going to be majoring in. Overall, I think it’s been interesting to be immersed in the technology field because before [the experiences I have now], these classes were my first experience in the tech field.”

SHS senior Laura Mo, who is the secretary of Girls Who Code, has taken McKeen’s AP Computer Science A and is currently taking AP Computer Science Principles, C++ and App Development. Mo hopes to be a project manager or an engineer in the field of technology.

Mo stated that the most important lesson she learned from computer science courses at SHS was collaboration. She also explained that although computer science courses at SHS mostly focus on doing individual projects, helping others is a vital component of the class.

“The environment that you see in comp-sci is a lot different than the environment you see in other classes,” Mo said. “It’s a lot more like an individual thing, each person is learning their own things and applying that to tests or outside things that they would be involved in. But comp-sci is more of like, if someone is stuck on something, you’re definitely allowed to help other people, and it’s a lot of a teamwork thing, especially with [having] teacher’s assistants and the teacher walking around and helping everyone.”

According to McKeen, having women in computer science is important because he stated that not only are women just as capable as men, they also tend to catch their mistakes more and look more carefully at their codes.

“When I look at the general personalities of my students,” McKeen said. “The males are more likely to be “yeah I know what I’m doing” and the females are more likely to be “oh I gotta keep testing my code, I’m not sure if it is gonna work,”.”