Computing clubs collaborate to code for social good

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COURTESY IMAGE / WM.EDU

The College of William and Mary’s Society of Women in Computing, the Association for Computing Machinery and the Google Developer’s Club are partnering on a new project entitled CS + Social Good. Part of a national movement with chapters at other universities, the project aims to use computer science and technological skills to address community-level social problems.

The original CS + Social Good project began at Stanford University in 2015, which quickly expanded to chapters at universities including Georgia Tech, Caltech and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Alex Chung ’21, a member of the CS + Social Good project at the College, learned about the movement while attending a computer science event at another university.

“We were at a Hackathon at UPenn, and they had a seminar and a workshop on using social good with CS, and there’s a chapter at UPenn that did something very similar, and I was inspired,” Chung said.

Chung emphasized that the project at the College will not be a carbon copy of the chapters present at other universities. Chung explained the value of the project as it highlights local organizations and the community.

“We want to make it unique to what William and Mary has to offer,” Chung said. “So the local companies, the local student organizations and our alumni.”

Linda Wu ’20, public relations chair for the SWC, said that the SWC was part of the CS + Social Good project since its inception. According to Wu, SWC applied to be part of the CS + Social Good branch before becoming an official club.

The project started off with a mentorship program between SWC members and middle school girls learning to code.

“So we’ve been a part of CS for Social Good since before it was even a national thing,” Wu said. “Our main CS for Social Good project so far has been a mentorship program that we do with Berkeley Middle School. We go there, we teach middle school girls the basics of coding: basically our intro class and one of our sophomore-level classes. They actually pick it up really well.”

SWC has seen great success with this project. In 2018 and 2019, SWC at the College won the ACM Student Chapter Outstanding Community Service Award, and members of SWC now plan to share their project on the national stage after recently being invited to speak at Grace Hopper, which is an event centered around women in computing.

Over the years, CS + Social Good grew from a small, localized project into a national organization associated with nonprofit work. However, the decision was contentious among some in the movement.

“The point behind nationalizing it was so that the national branch and organization could take political stances,” Wu said. “A lot of chapters were really hesitant about it, because when you do something like that, you might antagonize certain companies that might recruit on your campus, so we didn’t want to do that.”

With computer science and technology groups on campus joining forces on this project, CS + Social Good members hope to both educate and help the community.

“For this semester, we decided we’re going to do seminars and workshops,” Chung said. “We’re focused on recruiting, focused on outreach, so talking to nonprofits and brainstorming with them. Once that gets going, next semester, with all the networks and connections we have, we’re going to start doing project implementation, where we actually make technical projects.”

Vice chair of ACM Alex Fantine ‘21 hopes to use the project to address food waste in Williamsburg, helping individuals who may not have access to food pair up with businesses that possess excess food quantities.

“We think that we would be able to provide technological solutions that could help them find food,” Fantine said.

“We think that we would be able to provide technological solutions that could help them find food,” Fantine said. “There are ways to automate these processes so that it’s not one single person sitting there trying to coordinate everything, but rather they’re able to use a really simple interface or something.”

Wu highlighted the need to tailor computer science projects to those in the most dire need of assistance, and stressed the importance of using tech to improve other’s standard of living.

“If you think about it, the tech industry is really just to improve standards of living,” Wu said. “I think the point here is that we want to go back to that original point of improving standards of living for people who really need it.”

“If you think about it, the tech industry is really just to improve standards of living,” Wu said. “I think the point here is that we want to go back to that original point of improving standards of living for people who really need it.”

For Fantine, this type of issue extends beyond the scope of the CS + Social Good project as such a project not only helps underrepresented groups in a community, but also values those groups as people.

Overall, Fantine said that the project is about interacting with the community in a positive way.

“Our biggest goal, and what originally Stanford set out to do in initiating this CS + Social Good initiative, is to educate the community at whole about how tech and computer science can be used for social good,” Fantine said. “A lot of times, it’s easy to misconstrue tech with a very selfish thing. In reality, technology and computers should be a tool for us to help each other out, rather than a tool to help ourselves out.”