Around Town

Breaking the Silicon Ceiling

A Middletown high school student is getting girls into the computer science game


When she was first introduced to coding, Tatyana Frost of Middletown didn’t think it was for her. The 17-year-old, a junior at the MET High School in Newport, had always been interested in the arts, from theater to Irish step dance and even journalism, writing for the Newport Daily News and EastBayRI. But she struggled with math and science in school, and hadn’t considered studying computer science.

But one day Tatyana came across Scratch, a block coding system. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to be so bad at this, and it’s going to be so much math,’” Tatyana says. “But I started with basic HTML and CSS and I was like, ‘Wow – this is so much fun and so creative!’ And I really, really loved it.”

Tatyana’s unlikely attraction to computer science led to statewide recognition when she was awarded the Computer Science for Rhode Island (CS4RI) 2017 Student of the Year award at the CS4RI Summit on December 13. The summit, at URI’s Ryan Center, was hosted by the state’s Office for Innovation and attended by leaders in the technology industry, as well as up-and-coming tech entrepreneurs. 

The CS4RI award specifically recognized a project Tatyana designed after noticing that many of her male friends were taking computer science courses through URI, while girls by and large were not (reflecting a larger disparity in STEM representation). Her advisor Trisha Garland encouraged her to design and teach a course; Tatyana began teaching coding to middle school students and ultimately developed The Art of Code, which she teaches to girls in her high school.

The course includes hands-on computer science activities, and Tatyana begins each class meeting by highlighting women in STEM. As she continued refining the course, she wanted her peers to get a feel for the computer science industry. So she set up field trips, including a cybersecurity workshop and Q&A at URI as well as a tour of the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge.
The course has been very well-received by students and teachers alike at the MET. “It felt really nice to be like, ‘Wow, I’m making an impact,’” Tatyana said. “It’s small, but it’s there.”

Tatyana was surprised when she won the CS4RI, but her work with Art of Code aligns with the initiative’s goals and specific mission to double computer science degrees by 2025, which was announced by Governor Raimondo in December. To that end, CS4RI addresses statistics about the growing importance of computer science – and how the workforce is ill-prepared for it. Only 1 percent of Rhode Island high school students were enrolled in computer science courses in 2016. In 2014, less than 350 Rhode Islanders graduated from local colleges and universities with degrees in Computer Science. The Department of Labor and Training estimates that by 2022, there will be 4,000 technology job openings; and according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average income for these jobs is $80,000.

It is fitting, then, that Tatyana was recognized for her course at the MET. And she hopes to continue this work in the future. 

“I would love to start some sort of non-profit,” she says, “not just geared towards girls in computer science, but everybody” underrepresented in the field. 

And though she is proud of the CS4RI award, Tatyana realizes the importance of her work beyond any acknowledgement.

“The real reward,” she says, “is spreading the knowledge.”