As a junior in high school, College of Computing undergraduate Sabrina Seibel tried something that had never been done before at her alma mater, Dacula High.
Having already lettered in three sports – soccer, cross country, and track and field – she was eager for a new challenge. This one came in an arena few females around the country ever participate in.
She tried out for high school football. A strong and accurate leg earned her a spot on the team as a kicker, where she played and lettered for two years and earned plenty of attention from around the area.
“I may have been the first (female to play kicker) in the county,” she said. “Definitely at my school. It was a new experience, which was good. It helped me out of my comfort zone to try new things. I even got comfortable being in more male-dominated arenas, which I think has been useful.”
Useful, because she finds herself in another male-dominated arena at Georgia Tech.
Seibel is going into her second year as a computer science major. While female participation is consistently rising in the field, she is still a torch-bearer for young women trying to balance the scales.
Unlike many of her peers, her interest in computer science wasn’t fostered from the time she was a small child. While both of her parents work in technology, they aren’t specifically focused on computer science. She hadn’t given the subject much thought until her parents encouraged her to take an AP Computer Science course her senior year in high school.
Seibel immediately took a liking to it, noting that it was different than anything she had previously worked on. She enjoyed the endless possibilities, the idea that you could sit in front of a computer and create anything.
“I liked the imaginative side of it,” she said. “Anything is a possibility.”
It was an extension of her propensity for building “helpful” contraptions as a child, like a complicated set of strings that was supposed to flick the light switch when she tugged on the other end from her bed.
“It didn’t really work,” she said with a laugh.
Despite her interest, things didn’t click right away. The course was online – her school didn’t offer an in-person version – and she was struggling to get the information she needed to actually learn, not just pass the course.
“I didn’t know anyone else taking it, and it was all a new area of study for me,” she said. “I was on my own, and it was like I was sort of having to teach myself.”
That’s when she discovered Sisters Rise Up 4 CS, a relatively new program developed in Fall 2014 at Georgia Tech by Barbara Ericson. The program was based on Project Rise Up 4 CS, which aims to help African-American students pass the AP Computer Science A exam. Sisters Rise Up does the same for females.
The program offers extra help sessions in the form of webinars and in-person help sessions, near-peer role models, exposure to a college campus, and a community of learners.
“The program helped me get hooked on computer science,” Seibel said. “I started to actually learn. Seeing that some of the girls in the program had interned at Google or other places like that, and that they really loved CS, it gets you excited about it. They were only a few years older than me, and I was like, ‘Oh. That could be me.’”
Ericson noted that, as was the case for Seibel, Sisters Rise Up is often what keeps young women interested.
“She has said that she might have dropped out of CS if she wasn’t in Sisters Rise Up,” Ericson said. “She liked having a place to ask questions and see other women who were interested in CS.”
The program did so much for Seibel that she became a student leader for it immediately upon coming to Georgia Tech.
“When I graduated high school, the day after my graduation, I drove up here to meet with Barb and begin working with her,” Seibel said.
And her participation eased her transition as a student at Tech. She met other older students who have helped in scheduling her four-year plan, given advice on classes to take, and offered other valuable tips.
She is still relatively new to computer science, and said that she isn’t exactly sure where she plans to take it after college. Right now, she is trying to feel out the subject and find out the right sector for her.
In the meantime, she just wants to keep challenging herself.
“I like to make myself uncomfortable,” she said. “If you aren’t challenging yourself, you aren’t getting better. Tech, by nature, is a challenging college. Computer science is a challenging major. That challenge excites me.”