Students and faculty educate community about department history
Last Sunday, the students and faculty of the computer science (CS) department hosted Cirque du CS at the Science Center. This circus-themed event welcomed hundreds of visitors with brightly colored streamers, clowns and balloons and featured activities including laser printing and student presentations from the popular CS 117 course, Inventing Mobile Apps.
The event was well attended by non-Wellesley families, as CS major Amanda Foun ’17 noted.
“I loved that so many people from the town of Wellesley came. It was a great way to introduce younger kids to CS!” Foun said.
For the first portion of the afternoon, CS students presented their apps to the larger community and offered a myriad of games to help people learn about computer science. After getting their faces painted and consuming cotton candy, members of the Wellesley community ventured down to the Engineering Lab to see a laser printer in action and make their own laser-printed star or flower, visited presentations to gain answers to Bingo questions and strung together different combinations of Little Bits to activate a fan or a sound-sensitive detector.
Diana Tosca ’18 presented her app that she made using App Inventor as part of the student presentations. The app allows users on an Android device to photograph themselves, draw on the picture, and automatically upload it to a website.
“People seemed to really enjoy it, especially when they saw their picture ‘magically’ appear online,” Tosca commented. “I enjoy explaining the magic of computer science to anyone who is willing to listen. It is also really nice to be able to present a project you put your heart and soul into.”
The second part of the Cirque du CS each year is outreach, with many clubs such as Robogals actively working to attract elementary and middle school children to computer science and robotics.
The third part of the event featured presentations on the history and prospects of Wellesley’s CS program. In keeping with the lighter spirit of the event, the department served milk and cookies baked by Professor Lyn Turbak to attendees.
Professor Randy Shull presented on Wellesley’s earliest days of computing, discussing how the slow departmental growth in the 1970s was offset by huge subsequent increases in enrollment as more women became interested in the field of computer science.
The next lecture was given by Professor Eric Roberts, who worked with the team that created the ARPANET, a precursor to the Internet. The current head of the Stanford undergraduate computer science department, Roberts got his teaching start at Wellesley and was instrumental in introducing one of the first women’s computer science departments in the country at the College.
Roberts’ passion for women’s rights and computer science intersected in the 1970s when he realized that women weren’t having the same experiences as men in the field of computer science.
“It became painfully clear that all these brilliant women weren’t having those opportunities or getting positions,” Roberts said.
With these beliefs in mind, Roberts helped establish the Wellesley computer science Department in 1983 and went on to help make computer science the most popular undergraduate major at Stanford.
Roberts offered an important lesson for Wellesley computer science students.
“If at first you do succeed, you probably haven’t accomplished much,” Robert said, eliciting chuckles from the audience.
Other presentations were given by Professor Takis Mataxas, who hosted Wellesley CS alums Kristin Powers Harkness ’85, Monica Luke ’93 and Kate Golder Crafford ’02. Professor Orit Shaer wrapped it up with a presentation on “The Future of Computing @ Wellesley.”
The only complaint about the event was that there was some disorganization. But the biggest indicator of the Cirque’s success was the excitement in the air and sense of energy at the event. The plethora of carnival-themed food options, such as cotton candy and popcorn, definitely helped.
A young boy stopped for a moment to give a short review of the event. “Two thumbs up!” he exclaimed between bites of cotton candy, before running to check out the Human-Computer Interaction Lab.
Photo Courtesy of Sheridan Sunier ’15
Danni Ondraskova ’18 is the Opinions Assistant Editor who plans to major in Russian Area Studies and International Relations with a concentration in politics or economics. She loves rereading Anna Karenina and listening to Romanian House music. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diederique van der Knaap ’18 is a contributing columnist for the Features section. She enjoys science, hiking, reading (especially George Eliot and Willa Cather), and documentaries. She is best reached at email@example.com or @ddVDK on Twitter