Feature Stories Campus Events

Decoding Technology, Opening Doors Women in Technology workshops introduced Ruopeng Zhang '21 and Caroline Blackmon '19 to basic web development in a collaborative and fun environment. They urge other students to take advantage of the next round of workshops.

Unknown-6 Decoding Technology, Opening DoorsRuopeng Zhang ’21 and Caroline Blackmon ’19 participated in the fall Women in Technology workshops held on the Washington and Lee Campus.

“The Creative Technology Cohort provides me with a wonderful opportunity to start learning technology from the very basics in a supportive environment. It is also a great platform to meet other women interested in technology.”

~ Ruopeng Zhang ’21

During Fall Term 2018, Washington and Lee University held two Women in Technology workshops that introduced women to the basics of web development and programming in a relaxed and collaborative environment. Students who participated in these workshops, as well as other events that make up the initiative “Rewriting the Code: Women and Technology,” are members of the Creative Technology Cohort at W&L.

“The idea of the Creative Technology Cohort is to give these students something to identify with as we hold events throughout the year and they learn these new technological concepts,” said workshop organizer Kellie Harra ’18, a post-baccalaureate fellow in digital humanities.

Of the many goals behind the initiative, Harra says a crucial one is to “provide opportunities for women to explore their interest in technology and introduce them to new concepts outside the classroom.” Additional Women in Technology workshops will be held in late January or early February, and a related forum is planned for early March. Keep an eye on the university calendar for specifics.

Students Ruopeng Zhang ’21 and Caroline Blackmon ’19, who participated in the fall Women in Technology workshops, recently reflected on the value of the cohort and the workshops.

Q: Tell me about your role/experience in the Women in Technology Workshops

Ruopeng: As a member of the Creative Technology Cohort, I had the opportunity to learn basic web development using HTML and CSS and build my own personal website from scratch. I also had fun learning basic coding in Python with my cohort! After each workshop, there are follow-up sessions where we can work together and practice our computer skills.

Caroline: I took both workshops offered for Women in Technology, where we learned HTML, CSS and Python coding languages.

Q: What made you want to be part of this work?

Ruopeng: In the digital age, adopting technology has been a trend for most industries. However, women are generally underrepresented in the high-tech industry, and the resources of learning technology for women are relatively limited. The Creative Technology Cohort provides me with a wonderful opportunity to start learning technology from the very basics in a supportive environment. It is also a great platform to meet other women interested in technology.

Caroline: I am a senior and plan on being a journalist when I graduate from Washington and Lee. It is very pertinent that journalists know at least the basics of coding, especially HTML, because a lot of stories now rely on data and multimedia aspects. Through other classes I’ve taken at the university, I’ve learned some technology that will help with this, but I thought taking an immersive workshop taught by experts on the subject would be a great opportunity to get a crash course in each language.

Q: What did an average day for you look like on this project?

Ruopeng: A typical workshop is held on the weekend and starts in the morning and usually lasts for five hours. The cohorts meet at the IQ center and welcome our speakers, women who work with technology. We typically have lectures and do group activities for about two hours. Then we will have 30 to 45 minutes lunch break during which we can also talk to the speaker and network. After lunch, we go back to learning technical skills and collaborating with other members for another two or three hours.

Caroline: For both workshop days, we learned the basic terminology for each language and then went right into the hands-on experience through coding our own lines and stories. I personally learn best when I do whatever I’m learning for myself, so I appreciated when the teachers they brought in allowed us to learn by doing it ourselves.

Q: Has it been challenging in any way? If so, how?

Ruopeng: With zero computer science background, I personally found creating a website from scratch and writing hundreds of lines of code challenging and even intimidating at first. However, the Creative Technology Cohort has been very supportive and allows students with any level of computer skills to gain from the experience. Both professors and my peers are willing to help, which makes learning technology a lot easier and fun!

Q: How does the project relate to your wider experiences at W&L in terms of student-faculty relationships?

Ruopeng: During the workshop, Professor Sydney Bufkin and Research and Outreach Librarian Emily Cook were there to help whenever we had questions. I have also worked closely with Prof. Bufkin in the follow-up session where we talked about the features of web development and ideas for designing my personal website. This project again makes me realize how accessible faculty is and how willing they are to help students at W&L!

Caroline: I could really tell that Professor Bufkin, who was the main professor that organized the workshops, cared about us learning. She also knew everything the experts, who she brought in to teach us, were teaching us. This showed to me that, while she could have taught us the workshops as well, she wanted us to expand our connections with other women in technology and also wanted us to have as many resources as possible during the workshops to draw upon.

Q. Did this work impact your future plans in any way?

Ruopeng: This program definitely encouraged me to take computer science classes at W&L. It also reaffirmed my determination to incorporate technical skills into my study of accounting and mathematics. Career-wise, the two workshops I have attended so far raised my interest in technology and encouraged me to look at opportunities with an intersection of tech and my majors.

Caroline: They haven’t impacted my future plans, but I definitely am more confident in my coding abilities now.

Q: How did W&L prepare you for this experience?

Ruopeng: W&L education has focused on making us capable of doing new things instead of repeating what has already been done and has motivated me to try out a wide variety of subjects that I would not have imagined myself learning. The spirit of constantly exploring really encouraged me to dig deeper into technology. The liberal arts education also did a great job preparing me for interdisciplinary programs like this one.

Caroline: Being a Washington and Lee student means that I have found my way around lots of different types of technology, and this was no different. I think the experts who taught us were surprised at how receptive all of us were to learning these different coding languages and how quickly we caught on. We showed the visitors what Washington and Lee students are made of and I think we impressed them.

Q: Why is this kind of experience important to W&L students?

Ruopeng: The Creative Technology Cohort is open to all majors and all class years, allowing students from different backgrounds, regardless of their knowledge about technology, to get a taste of what technology is really like. Moreover, it helps expand students’ skill sets, making W&L students stand out in all kinds of occasions.  This program is also a wonderful networking opportunity to connect with speakers, faculty members and peers.

Caroline: This kind of experience is important to Washington and Lee students because it shows that a variety of majors can come together and learn a new skill together. It also shows that women can catch on to technology just as well as men can. It also is important because, in an increasingly digital world, students need to at least know the basics of different computing and coding languages so they can keep up with the fast-paced technological world.

Q: Why should someone sign up for the next workshops?

Ruopeng: Join us to learn technology in a collaborative and supportive environment and meet awesome people who share the same interests as you! Also, free lunch is provided!

Caroline: I would tell anyone interested in being a part of the next workshops to not be afraid of the five-hour time commitment because the time flies by as you are completely immersed in a full hands-on experience with learning several different coding languages. Also, it’s really fun to learn from and get together with other women from many different walks of life around campus that you may not interact with on a daily basis.