This segment was written by Gabriella Ramos, WISE social media & communications specialist
These past two weeks I have had the amazing opportunity to get to know Portia Cooper, a brilliant young woman from Tucson. Portia is a senior in high school who is a WISE Girls Who Code alum and now a content developer! While being in high school, Portia also completed her Associate’s Degree. Aside from coding and being a busy student, Portia enjoys skateboarding, thrifting, and learning Swedish. Hearing about Portia and all her accomplishments is impressive, she is a bright person and I cannot wait to see what she does in the future!
Here’s the conversation Portia and I had about WISE, coding, and the future:
How did you hear about the University of Arizona’s Girls Who Code Program? What interested you and what stood out about this program?
I was looking for coding programs because my school did not offer computer science classes or clubs. So, when I heard about an all-girl coding club, I was immediately interested. Only places like Seattle had Girls Who Code clubs back then. I was thrilled when WISE started a chapter when I was in 7th grade. I signed up before the club even officially launched.
When I joined UArizona Girls Who Code, I became part of the WISE community. I grew up with ongoing mentoring from WISE faculty and students. This support changed the trajectory of my life. In 10th grade, I was promoted to a facilitator at UArizona Girls Who Code, and I became a mentor. And this summer I developed advanced Python lessons for the club. We needed something to offer students who mastered the existing curriculum. Our world runs on code. We need every coder that we can get.
How was your experience like in Girls Who Code?
I’ve been a part of UArizona Girls Who Code for five years now, as a student, facilitator, and content developer. Teaching other girls, the skills that I learned makes me extraordinarily proud!
What did you do while working with Stanford University this summer?
In June and July, I worked with Stanford University graduate students and four high-school coders to develop a machine learning model that detects fake online news by analyzing website domain names, URL content, and HTML tags. This project was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed meeting other teen AI developers. I also led my own AI project during a 12-week program that paired students with industry mentors. I created a convolutional neural network that detects the presence of firearms in images. My mentor was an Accenture data scientist, and I presented my project to engineers from Microsoft and Novetta. This summer was amazing, I learned so much!
How did you get interested in computer science?
I wrote my first line of code when I was 12, and it was love at first "type." At its core, computer science is creative problem solving, and that is my favorite thing to do.
Do you have any future career goals?
I hope to spend my career developing AI that protects our planet. AI is a force multiplier that I plan to leverage. There are many AI applications that can address pressing problems. AI can maximize the efficiency of water usage down to the drop. AI can predict extreme weather events. AI can combat invasive species, such as buffelgrass. These are exactly the types of eco-tech applications that excite me.
What does being a young woman in STEM mean to you?
The tech gender gap is real. I was the only high school girl on my project teams this summer. And I may not have been there without WISE and Girls Who Code. The work that WISE and Girls Who Code does is critical for creating a more diverse and inclusive tech labor force.