I have always been in awe of people who strive to make a change in the world. The philanthropists and activists on the television, in interviews, and in books inspire me with their radiating passion for what they stand for, and I hope that one day I can be passionate enough about something to also create change in the world.
A fledgling attempt to emulate my heroes came in high school, where I became very involved in the robotics and computer science community in my town. To help give back to my community, I founded a high school robotics team and volunteered for the local Robotics 4-H Club for younger children. I wanted to use my skill set to contribute to the growth of others, not just my own personal gain, and I found a sense of fulfillment through helping others in this way. When it came time to think about possible major choices for college, I wanted to incorporate my desire to help others into my career plans. Some choices immediately came to mind: doctor, nurse, lawyer, teacher. These options made the positive social impact that was attractive. But, unfortunately, my love for math, statistics, and computer science did not mesh as well with those career choices as I would have hoped. There did not seem to be a clear way to effect social change given my interests.
Over winter break, I looked into the research that professors in the CS department were doing at Wellesley, and one professor caught my eye. My computer science professor from last semester had recent research that seemed to primarily focus on understanding the needs of marginalized people. After getting in touch with my professor, I joined the lab to work on a project that involves protecting the security of transgender individuals and understanding their privacy concerns. I have only been in my professor’s lab for a short time now, but I am very happy to be working on a project that positively contributes to the transgender community. The experience, however brief, has opened my eyes to the world of computer science for social good.
The idea of “CS for social good” simply denotes an application and/or philosophy of Computer Science to solving social issues. CS for social good is not sequestered to a single field in tech. Rather, it can be applied to almost any field of work, inside or outside the realm of CS. After further exploration, I discovered more programs that combine CS with social good and compiled some articles and organizations that seem particularly helpful. “Choose Your Own Adventure: Finding Impactful Tech Internships”, by Ellie Czepiel, goes over different methods of finding impactful tech internships in the government, nonprofit, company, and job sectors. The Impact Coalition is a coalition that matches up individuals with tech companies and organizations that make positive social impacts. They also organize events such as hackathons and summits that connect you with like-minded people in your area. If you want more humanitarian companies to look into, “Ten Companies Using Tech To Make a Social Impact” lists companies that are using computer science and other tech fields to make a social impact on various fields. Perhaps one of my favorite resources that I have found, the article Transforming Tech Skills into a Social Good Career, talks about how you can merge your technical and humanitarian side. It offers several outside resources where you can begin your job hunt.
Recently, students and schools are getting behind the need for CS for social good organizations as well. A club at Stanford, CS+Social Good, was started in 2015 and is dedicated to empowering students to use their technology skills for social good. In collaboration with the Stanford CS department, they were able to introduce four new student taught courses at Stanford, all focused on social good. They also have a Medium page with articles from students who share their experiences with impactful tech experiences. There is a club at Brown University, CS for Social Change, a student initiative that seeks to “promote dialogue and action within the intersection of technology and social good”. There have also been new programs introduced to certain universities with this focus as well, such as Data Science for Social Good at The University of Chicago. The program runs an insightful blog page with articles about the work that the fellows are doing, and I found it helpful to read some of them to get an idea of the kind of impact these projects make. The University of Chicago is not the only school to get on board with CS for social good. Georgia Tech’s Atlanta Data Science for Social Good (DSSG) program offers a ten-week internship that combines data science and technology design in a project that benefits society. The University of Washington also started a Data Science for Social Good program.
If you are interested in the idea of computing for social good and would like to know more, these resources are a good place to start. With CS for social good, the possibilities for doing satisfying work in CS become even more expansive than ever before. Christine Cesaria said it well in her article on the Benevolent Computing Program at Stonybrook University, “Computing for Social Good”: “you need only to hear the enthusiasm in the students’ voices as they describe their project, and see the appreciative smiles on the clients’ faces.” In essence, CS for social good is an impactful direction that can motivate your work and add meaning to your life.
-Raine Tenerelli, RTC Fellow + Wellesley College Freshman
Rewriting the Code-Empowering College Women in Tech