San Marcos,
13:07 PM

Extended Stay for CSUSM's Women's Hackathon

By Eric Breier

Youwen Ouyang has always been impressed by the young women who participate in the Women’s Hackathon at Cal State San Marcos.

The event generates excitement among female high school and college students who work collaboratively using computer science to address a selected real-world challenge.

Now Ouyang is working to build on the one-day event thanks to a recently awarded three-year grant for $1,199,971 from the National Science Foundation.

As the principal investigator on the grant titled “Inspiring Commitment for STEM Career Paths through Extended Women’s Hackathons,” Ouyang will be supported by Moses Ochanji, an associate professor in the School of Education, and Anna Woodcock, a research faculty member in the psychology department, who are co-principal investigators on the project.

The grant project will build on the enthusiasm from the one-day Women’s Hackathon to offer weekly after-school activities in four partner school districts -- Escondido, San Marcos, Vista and Oceanside. The activities will be facilitated by CSUSM computer science undergrad students, who will visit a school site in each district to work with female students from the high school.

It is anticipated that the project will reach 180 high school girls over the three years. While open to all female high school students in the partner districts, the extended hackathon is targeting Latina students for participation.

Ouyang said the project’s research component that is spearheaded by Woodcock was crucial in securing the grant.

Woodcock said the project’s research goal is two-fold:

  • Examine the extent to which the extended hackathon project fosters and sustains participants’ sense of self-efficacy and identity in computer science; and
  • Examine how self-efficacy and identity build on the interest and skills to increase participants’ commitment to a potential computer science career path.

“Our past research clearly shows that self-efficacy -- or sense of ‘I can do it’ -- and identity with a field such as computer science are critical for sustaining interest,” Woodcock said. “Our research plan will measure the impact of the extended hackathon on these processes. We want to get this research out there to the academic community, but also in the computer science community.”

Woodcock’s research interests include examining the negative effects of stereotyping on women and minorities in STEM fields. She notes that STEM disciplines vary when it comes to inclusion of women and minorities. While biological sciences almost have parity in gender distribution, Woodcock said women and minorities are still chronically underrepresented in fields such as computer science, chemistry and engineering.

“The abilities of women and girls are negatively stereotyped in these fields which creates a barrier to participation,” she said.

Ochanji will play an important role through his expertise in designing curriculum as well as helping to prepare the undergraduate CSUSM computer science students in how to best communicate and engage with the high school participants. The college students will not only train the high school girls in the program, but will be positive role models as young women who are thriving in computer science studies.

As work on the grant gets underway, CSUSM will host its sixth Women’s Hackathon on Oct. 15. The challenges for the hackathon include:

  • “Connecting Girls to Success” to aid Girl Force USA’s goal of helping girls in leadership development. The challenge is to create a platform in which members of Girl Force USA can continue training on their own and connect their goals to resources in the Girl Force USA community.
  • “Creative Repurposing to Reduce Waste” to help The Green Horizon in its promotion of green culture among youth by encouraging civic participation in environmental protection. The challenge is to provide an interactive platform to engage resourceful older generations to help youth learn creative and artistic ways of repurposing and upcycling.

As Ouyang focuses on the grant project, she has turned to computer science professor Sahar Mosleh to take care of logistics for the one-day hackathon. Among the goals is recruiting more college students for the Oct. 15 event to pair up with high school participants.

The one-day hackathon has already made an impact in showing girls that computer science is about more than writing codes.

“They start to see computer science as problem-solving,” Ouyang said. “They get to see the bigger picture. Through technology, you become creative problem-solvers. You’re providing ways to solve problems that was not possible before.”

Visit for more information on the hackathon.