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Coding with Confidence

Professor Fatma Nasoz earns 2018 Faculty/Staff Community Outreach Award for program providing computer coding opportunities to underserved female students.

People  |  Apr 18, 2018  |  By Sue DiBella
woman behind computer terminal

Computer science professor Fatma Nasoz's work is aimed at getting more women into her profession. (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services)

As a female computer science professor and Director of Information Technology with The Lincy Institute, Fatma Nasoz is passionate about increasing the participation of women in her field. In 2016, she decided it was time to take action – locally.

Nasoz, the 2018 Faculty/Staff Community Outreach Award recipient, set out to establish a local program for Girls Who Code (GWC), a national nonprofit that aims to close the gender gap in computing and technology.

Working with Marta Meana, dean of the Honors College, and Laurel Pritchard, interim vice provost for undergraduate education, Nasoz developed and launched a “Girls Who Code Club at UNLV” and collaborated with partners in the community to make it happen. The club is the first of its kind in Nevada.

To start, Nasoz coordinated with the national Girls Who Code organization and organizers at other universities to explore the best organizational and curricular practices; she went on to hire and coach instructors and teaching assistants. She also coordinated with community partners to ensure this opportunity would be made available to girls from underserved populations in the community.

Through a partnership with the Fulfillment Fund Las Vegas, Chaparral High School, Del Sol High School, Konami Gaming, and the national Girls Who Code organization, the program was launched in January 2017.

Working Weekends

On Saturday mornings over a 16-week period, girls from local high schools came to the UNLV Honors College’s computer lab on campus to learn programming fundamentals, web development and design, mobile development, and robotics. Working in teams, they designed, implemented, and presented “Community Impact Projects” that addressed social issues important to them.

The GWC Club at UNLV also exposed the students to the success stories of female role models, including engineers, developers, executives, and entrepreneurs, to inspire and motivate the students.

“We believe young women in Las Vegas would greatly benefit from the programs and curricula provided by GWC and decided to make their programs available to middle and high school students in the valley,” Nasoz said.

“For 16 Saturday mornings in the spring of 2017, professor Nasoz was available to ensure that the club ran well and that the girls understood what they were doing and why,” said Meana in her letter supporting Nasoz’s application. “I saw her work with them and explain the importance of what they were doing, and it was truly inspiring.”

Coding Commitment

Meana said she watched as the group of young girls who were initially unsure of the commitment they had made developed into computer coders proud of their projects and passionate about their new skills.

“Our community partners were equally enthralled,” Meana said. “The students’ excellent presentations at the end of the club and the graduation ceremony attended by many of the girls’ proud family members were a testament to the efforts of professor Nasoz.”

The UNLV office of community engagement established four universitywide awards in 2016 to recognize campus individuals for their exceptional community engagement in the areas of service learning, community-based research, faculty/staff community outreach activity, and student service.