Moving America Forward

These Computer Science Programs Have Just What Women Want

July 24, 2014
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These Computer Science Programs Have Just What Women Want
Keren Freeman/Redux
All colleges should take notice of how these schools are reducing the gender gap.

The likes of Marie Curie and Jane Goodall may have set great examples for future female scientists, and it’s time that more women follow in their footsteps — especially when it comes to computer science.

For all the jobs available in the industry and programs to train workers for it, a mere 18 percent of computer science graduates in the United States are women. Can we balance out the gender gap amongst computer scientists? Some of the top institutions of higher learning have already started, according to The New York Times.

At Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science, 40 percent of incoming freshmen are women, and almost a third of computer science graduates this year were women at the University of Washington. And that’s not all. Harvey Mudd College in California boasts that 40 percent of their computer science program enrollees are female and this year, more than half of their engineering school graduates were women — a first for the school.

As promising as these numbers are, these three schools represent only a fraction of the computer science programs in the country. The question remains – what’s their secret, and how can it spread to every school?

Unsurprisingly, there is no cure-all, but one general trend is helping out everywhere: With so many professional opportunities for computer science majors, the field in general is attracting more students — regardless of gender.

But what sets Carnegie Mellon, University of Washington, and Harvey Mudd apart is that they are grabbing potential students when they’re younger by promoting computer science at an earlier age. By hosting summer camps and training high school teachers to teach computer science, girls are more likely to gain exposure to the discipline and develop a lifelong interest in it.

Another tactic used by these schools is revamping their marketing and support systems. Harvey Mudd, for example, has featured female students in their brochures to show that it’s normal for girls to study science. “We made it very clear that being a female scientist, that’s normal,” said Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd. Plus, the school now talks about computer science as a way to problem solve (as opposed to it simply being about technical coding), putting an emphasis on its practical applications.

At Carnegie Mellon, the requirement to have prior experience in order to enter the major was eliminated and an official student mentorship program was established. By removing barriers and easing the process of becoming a computer science major, more women are showing interest.

Good news is, this can be easily replicated elsewhere.

As Lenore Blum, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon told The New York Times, “I don’t think we’re doing anything that nobody else could do, but it has to be sustained and institutionalized.”

If other schools picked up some tips from this trend-setting trio, America could be well on its way to unlocking a whole new set of minds for computer science.

MORE: Can Google Crack the Code for More Female Computer Scientists?

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