Sisterhood of CS

It might seem a bit ironic me being bursting with pride at being a member of a sisterhood, what with me being a guy who never even had a sister, but I am. The Sisterhood of CS is the fifth Computer Science club for which I am advisor. Perhaps being advisor means I am not really a member, but you get the idea.

To tell you the truth, I never expected to be involved with forming computer clubs, since the only club I'd ever willingly joined was the Columbia Record Club. Looking back it makes perfect sense, which I suppose why I am writing this blog entry to advocate you considering to do the same.

I'll tell you how I got here. Two years ago I decided to tackle head-on students' frequent first question to me being "When can I learn how to program video games." To do so effectively requires the equivalent of a BS in computer science, hence my suggesting students take my series of courses. I decided to recruit some questing students to form what became the "Contra Costa College Graphics and Gaming Guild" (C3G3). Over the last couple of yeas they used several game engines, several modeling programs, and several bit graphics programs. What surprised me was that the guild attracted a wide variety of students, including several very talented artists. They taught themselves; trained each other. I learned that a club, with no grades associated, allowed students a unique opportunity to freely explore with guidance from me as advisor.

Paul Steinberg and I film the "Teach Parallel" interviews, Paul from the Intel Hillsboro studio in Portland, and me from either my Intro to C++ course in the Fall, or my Data Structures course in the Spring. It motivated students to request a Parallel Programming Club, where again students began exploring topics in an ungraded, self-driven way outside of formal classes. The two clubs had some overlap in membership, but were largely different. If you'd asked me before they'd come to be, I'd have said there could be no justification for two CS clubs; one would suffice. I was delighted with where the club went. We received over twenty Lenovo laptops to explore Meego, and explore we did, and explore we continue to do with Meego morphing into Tizon and HTML5. We have a cool app in the works, which may find its niche among all the other apps contending for use and 15 minutes of fame. They are also collaborating with Leo Ferres' students in the University of Concepcion in Chile to solve an extended Project Euler Problem 4 on palindromic integers. The students are currently working independently, using the Intel Manycore machine for poduction runs. One representative from each school will be on Teach Parallel, to discuss progress, and then the students will collaborate together. Paul and I hope to extend his idea with more problems and more schools.


I have been goading my students for years to solve more Project Euler problems collectively than I have. These problems require a knowledge of mathematics and computer science, with sufficient algorithmic experience wisdom to craft a solution. I know they will beat me, but I am trying to set as high a bar as possible. One student took up the charge, and formed a Computational Math Club to do just this. It is delightful to be advisor to a group of students striving to beat my record. It encapsulates exactly what delights me about teaching, to help train people to better academically and professionally than I am. Several of these students are also collaborating with the Parallel Programming Club on the Chile problem. Once again I am amazed that there could be 3 separate groups of students all working on distinct aspects of Computer Science.

This brings us full circle back to the Sisterhood of CS that formed last weekend primarily by the five young women in my intro to CS course, along with a couple of motivated graduates of my classes. The current plan is to bring in guest speakers, develop mutual support structures, educate me on what I need to do to better support young women in CS, and develop some applications in the ScienceSim based metaverse. We met today for the first time today, Saturday Oct 6 at 2pm in Second Life, because that was the only time we could meet around school and work schedules. I was wearing some black wings from a company long out of existence in Second Life; both students wanted to learn how to make their own. Yessssssss! Daedalus would be pleased with their sincerity, for they will certainly not be using wax. May they fly high.

I did say we have five clubs. I was adopted by the Anime Club who needed an advisor. The president of the club is a former student who competed in both SC Education and TeraGrid programming contests. It will be interesting to see if a project involving all five clubs emerges.

I am sometimes exhausted by the success of these clubs, but the dynamism and life of these club comes right back and infuses the classroom. All of a sudden some students are seeing a larger context for what we are doing in class. It is no longer just academic for them. The academics and academic challenges are being embraced with eyes more open to possibilities: a self-induced wake-up call. Students not in the clubs are also positively affected, as to be expected, by the other students in the room. It is a wonderful experiment in learning. Stay tuned for more as the story unfolds.

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3 comments

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alexisliu's picture

I'm a student of Mr. Murphy and one of the co-founder of the sisterhood. I feel ashamed to say that I knew nothing about computers before I took his classes. And when i say nothing I meant NOTHING. I didn't know what a CPU is and java used to mean only coffee to me. After that first computer science class, i fell in love with programming. When I'm coding, time seems to fly. I considered adding computer science to double with math. However, with my very late start, i feel lacking in comparison to the guys in my class. I feel lacking even to my guy friends, who are not even computer science majors. when they start to talk about technology, it's like they are speaking a foreign language. I felt very discouraged about entering this major. How can I compete with these guys in college?(i know college is not about competing, but Berkeley, the school I hope to transfer to, is very competitive) They've had years of interest and knowledge in computer science already.
Mr. Murphy was great in urging me not to give up. He encouraged me to start the Computational Math club to explore my interest further. Now with the addition of sisterhood, i feel much more optimistic about my decision of majoring in computer science. I still have a lot to learn. But it's great knowing someone's got my back.

Tom (wolfmurphy) Murphy's picture

Thanks, Jen, but it is not a new status for me.

My youngest daughter did a triple major at Cal Poly in Chemistry, Biochemistry, and Theater; and minors in psychology and women's studies. I am very proud of her. Anyway, in a women's studies class she was asked to write about the first feminist she met and she wrote about me. It stills bring a pleasant tear to my eye to recall it. Once I learned we were pregnant with daughters, I permanently morphed into someone who deeply cares about women having every opportunity that a man does, and vice versa.

I expect this club to educate me in how to more effectively teach all my students. The waters of computer science have always been testosterone rich in which I effortlessly swam and breathed. It is always hard to see the framework of an environment you grew up in. I try, and I look forward to being schooled by my students.

BTW, the club currently has two males members, besides me as a male advisor. I am going to be asking you to talk with the club once we finish stabilizing. Luckily you are relatively close, so we might be successful in enticing you to to travel here.

Jennifer Teal Levine (Intel)'s picture

I'm sure your daughters are proud of your new Big Sister status. Joking aside, I love what you've done here and really hope that you can use the Teach Parallel platform to inspire others to follow your example as an advisor. Congratulations to your sister-hood as well for being wise enough to see the strength in forming a group to support their explorations.

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