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MacArthur High School Senior Encourages Underclassmen to Pursue Computer Science

With graduation approaching, Afaf Maliha, a senior at MacArthur High School, is actively advocating for her school's computer science program, particularly among female students.

Described as "determined" by her teacher, Dennis Ramos, Maliha has shown exceptional commitment to promoting computer science education. Despite initial reluctance towards coding, Maliha's interest was sparked during her sophomore year. Her enthusiasm grew as she discovered the logic and creativity behind programming.

"Maliha first stepped foot into Ramos’ class during her sophomore year at MacArthur. 'My mom was like ‘You’re doing computer science,’ and I was like, ‘Okay mom, whatever you say’," she says. "I wasn’t really interested in coding. I had taken a Python course that summer, and I found it boring. In any case, I wanted to keep my options open, and I knew that it was a good career, so I went for it.'"

"When she was in my class that first year, she was very quiet, reserved and hard to read," says Ramos. "I wasn’t sure she was enjoying the class, but as time went on, she started to gain a liking for the subject. I think she enjoyed the challenge and how it interacted with almost every subject."

As part of her AP Computer Science Principles class, Maliha was tasked with designing an app. It’s safe to say that it piqued her interest.

“When we started creating it, it was really fun to figure out the logic behind it all,” says Maliha. “At first, I made a super long, complicated code, and then with the help of one of my classmates, we figured out how to shorten it. That was exciting for me because it all seemed very logical, like a puzzle.”

It all started clicking, and Maliha found herself more engaged than in any of her other subjects. Up to that point, she wasn’t really ambitious about any career path in particular, but with computer science, she realized she could do it for fun and utilize her skills outside of the classroom.

After three years in Ramos’s class, Maliha has worked with various coding languages such as HTML, Java and her old nemesis, Python, which has now become her favorite language to code in. She’s also racked up a few accolades along the way.

Last year, she helped found MacArthur’s first-ever Computer Science CTSO (Career Technical Student Organization) where she and her classmates competed at SkillsUSA in the Interactive Application & Game Development category. She and her partner designed a playable video game that won first place at the regional competition and qualified for the state competition. Rest assured, it was not a fluke or beginner’s luck. She and her partner won first place again at this year’s regional competition.

" 'Just looking at me, I’m different in many ways,' says Maliha. 'This industry is mainly composed of males, and the competition is reflective of that. When we go to competitions like SkillsUSA or TSA (Technology Student Association), there might be 40 contestants and only about two of them are girls, and they happen to be from my school.'"

Recognizing the importance of diversity in the tech industry, Maliha is actively recruiting underclassmen to ensure the program's success. With plans to pursue a double major in computer science and data science at the University of Texas at Austin, Maliha aims to inspire more students to embrace computer science.

"As her senior year draws to a close, she is looking forward to what the future holds. 'I’m hoping more students become interested in computer science and competing at SkillsUSA and TSA,' says Maliha. 'I’ve already started on making that happen. I’ve asked Mr. Ramos to tell me which students are interested so that I can talk to his classes. I already have a few juniors that I know will continue in the program, and ultimately, we just want computer science to be prominent enough so that everyone will want to join.'"

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects computer science research jobs will grow 19% by 2026. Yet, women only earn 18% of computer science bachelor's degrees in the United States. Despite the high job demand, computer science remains a male-dominated field in the United States. In response, many top colleges are making efforts to recruit female computer science students, making it an ideal time for women to pursue computer science degrees.

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