August 1, 2017

Coding Diversity Initiative Comes to Chicago

A fourth-year in the College has started a local chapter of an international association for the advancement of gender diversity among coders who use the programming language R. Angela Li’s Chicago branch of R-Ladies held its first meeting last week. 

Li was first inspired to introduce a branch of R-Ladies to Chicago in early July, while following a global R conference on Twitter. Li looked the group up online and saw that, despite their widespread reach, the organization did not have a branch in Chicago. When she contacted the association about organizing a Chicago meetup, Li said she was encouraged to start a local chapter. 

Li launched R-Ladies Chicago about two weeks later. 

“I set up the entire infrastructure for the group in a week: connecting with the global organization, securing resources for the meetup, acquiring space, planning presentation content, reaching out to sponsors, recruiting co-organizers and collaborators, and publicizing the event, among other things,” Li said.

The launch meeting began with Li giving a short presentation on R-Ladies, after which two other members spoke about creating web apps and mapping using R. The meeting was attended by 35 women from around Chicago, not just University of Chicago students.
Li aims to have R-Ladies Chicago host monthly presentations and workshops, and she’s interested in the possibility of gaining more sponsorships and collaborations. Long-term, Li hopes to expand the organizational base of R-Ladies Chicago so that the direction of the organization can be properly managed. 

“Right now, the group is dependent on the time I personally put into it, which isn’t sustainable in the long term. I’m putting together organizational infrastructure so that I can eventually step back and let other women step up and organize,” she said.

While the launch meeting of R-Ladies took place on UChicago’s campus, Li plans to move future meetings out of Hyde Park to a location more accessible to all Chicagoans. “We’ve already secured space downtown for our next meeting, which should provide space for the 75 women who expressed interest in attending in the future.” 

R-Ladies uses meetups and mentorships to create a universally beneficial setting for R users in the growing community of women in technology. The organization is open to all women who wish to learn about using R. “Whether someone is a beginner or an expert, we hope to create a friendly environment where they can ask questions, learn new skills, and contribute meaningfully,” Li explained.