Google visits Sweet Briar to teach intensive computer science course

Eight Sweet Briar students are extending the school year by one week, taking an intensive course taught by a software engineer from Google, where they’re learning to develop applications for Android.

The eight students include a newly-minted alumna from the Class of 2018 and students with majors and minors including biochemistry, engineering, molecular biology, environmental design, engineering, math, and, of course, computer science.

The Sweet Briar students, who have taken previous classes at the College in Python are learning Java and XML for this course. Google provides some of the starting code and helps the students understand how different elements interact. “I’ve really gotten to play around with the basics and see how things work,” said Sophia Babieri ’19. “The support and individual attention has been amazing. I’ve been able to ask questions when I have them and I love the applicability of the skills I’m learning.”

Classmate Sarah Saleem ’20 agrees. “I took the course because I’ve always had an interest in app creation and who wouldn’t want to take a class taught by Google?” she said. “This has been a great environment with no pressure and guidance throughout the process. It’s been helpful to have my questions answered.”

For a company like Google, these classes provide an opportunity to encourage the next generation of coders. “We want to provide practical knowledge,” said Googler Lauren Guerrant. “The class teaches students about how projects actually happen in the workplace.” She acknowledged, too, the value of encouraging women, in particular, to get into coding. “At Google, we’re committed to designing for everyone. In order to do that, we need to understand different perspectives and to build a company that looks like the world we live in,” she said.

Confidence building is an important part of the course because the more support young women get from other women in the industry, the more confidence they’ll have to join the field. Course instructor Jocelyn Schulz is glad for the chance to get these students excited about coding. “I think the best thing that can come out of this class is to make software engineering less intimidating,” she said. “I want these women to know that if they have an interest in it, they can do it.”

Raina Robeva, professor of mathematical sciences and director of the College’s Center for Engineering, Science and Technology in Society, says “The course will expose the students to best practices and teach them new skills in a non-competitive and supportive environment. In the end, that’s the best way to encourage more women to enter the field, something that both Sweet Briar and Google are committed to.”

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