CS Kickstart, an EECS-affiliated student organization, held its week-long computer science immersion program earlier this month, ushering in a record turnout for the outreach program designed to attract female-identifying first-year students to computer science at Berkeley. Its ice cream social with CS advisors, which took place on August 11th in Cory Hall, was only a small sliver of the intensive, one-week immersion program, but a highlight according to many who attended. “It was amazing to see CS Kickstart held in person again this year and with more students than in previous years!” said EECS Director of Student Diversity, Audrey Sillers. “Seeing the Cory Courtyard filled to the brim with eager students excited to jump into the field of CS was like a breath of fresh air after the last 2.5 years of hybrid and remote instruction.”
Now in its 11th consecutive year (remote in 2020 and 2021), CS Kickstart boasts over 95 attendees and is completely student-run. The program is designed to help incoming female-identifying first-year students explore CS, and aims to add more diversity to the field. The program hosts a variety of workshops in Python, web development, electrical engineering, and data science; it hosts panel discussions featuring current Ph.D. students and faculty speakers like John DeNero, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies for CDSS and EECS Teaching Professor; it hosts field trips, like a community-building experience with the Oakland Athletics, and tours, panels, and Q&A sessions with industry partners, such as SAP Academy and Stitch Fix.
Other benefits include meeting like-minded people: “CS Kickstart helped me meet a bunch of other women in CS and made the notion of entering [Berkeley EECS] as someone without a lot of experience less daunting,” said one attendee. “CS Kickstart helped me realize that I have a place in CS! It gave me the confidence to pursue something I once thought would be closed off to me,” said another. According to CS Kickstart, 95% of its attendees felt more prepared to take their first computer science course at UC Berkeley; 96% felt the program had a positive effect on their confidence to pursue computer science.
The program began with 25 participants in 2011 and has since grown to nearly quadruple its impact. Floraine Berthouzoz, then a graduate student in CS at Berkeley, came up with the idea after attending similar programs as an undergraduate at ETH in Switzerland. Floraine founded CS Kickstart with EECS alumna Colleen Lewis, who is now an associate professor of computer science at the University of Illinois. Since then, the program has grown organically with funding from Microsoft and the Hopper Dean Foundation, which, in 2019 provided a 2M gift to Berkeley EECS to support its diversity initiatives.
CS Kickstart has come a long way since 2011, its latest iteration bringing much-needed energy and enthusiasm back to campus. “It was inspiring to meet this year’s cohort, discuss their advising questions, and share the opportunities available within the EECS Department for continued community engagement,” said Sillers.