On the same weekend that the latest Avengers movie dominated pop culture, several dozen middle school girls came to the University of Chicago campus for a day-long adventure in the world of computer science. Instead of battling intergalactic threats, they fought that most insidious of Chicago villains — a late April snowstorm — to learn about data visualization, cryptography, digital sound, and other tech superpowers from UChicago CS students and faculty.
The superpowHer event, organized by UChicago CS student group compileHer, themed its day of educational activities with a comic book flair, sending each group of girls on a mission to save their city from a dangerous computer virus. Attendees learned how to query a database, encrypt and decode secret messages, craft an unbreakable password, and many more handy skills, receiving clues along the way that helped them solve the overall story conflict.
“The theme of our event very intentionally subverts the dominant narrative around who a superhero is and what a superhero looks like,” said Devshi Mehrotra, a fourth-year computer science student and director of compileHer. “By putting young girls at the front and center of our fictional storyline, we hoped to help each and every single one of our students recognize the full scope of their power.”