More Support, Starting Young Draws Women in Computer Science


Colleges and universities across the country are hard at work coming up with ways to make the field of computer science more appealing to women.

Currently in the United States, universities and technology companies are only seeing women, on average, account for 15% of their computer science graduates and technical workers.  There is significant pressure in the industry to raise this percentage; the issue is how to do it.

The National Center for Women and Information Technologies provides college campuses with consultants to teach them successful methods of how to change their programs so that they attract more women to the field, and then keep them in that program.  The organization is currently preparing to celebrate the efforts of the University of Washington with its first award in the area, sponsored by Google, which comes with a $100,000 prize.

Last year, the University handed out 30% of its bachelor’s degrees in computer science to women.  While Ed Lazowska, Vhairman in Computer Science and Engineering at the university, was not happy with the statistic, calling it “not great,” it is still twice the national average.  The university has consistently increased the percentage of women who graduate in the field, with 15% in 2005 and 20% in 2010, writes Claire Cain Miller for The New York Times.

Lazowska did add that of the women who enrolled in the introductory computer science course at the school and then decided to continue on with the major, 58% said they were initially uninterested in the topic, reports Katherine Long for The Seattle Times.

The women who took the class “discovered they loved computer science and were great at it,” he said by email.

In order to make this happen, Lazowska said the university has done three things.  The first was to ensure younger females became interested in the field by offering workshops and field trips to elementary and high school teachers and students.

The university also overhauled its introductory courses in order to make them more accessible and inviting by showing students they could succeed by hard work and not merely through an inherited skill.

The new courses feature small group sessions, with 40% of the teaching assistants being women.  A new seminar was added focusing on women in computing.

In addition, the university worked to create a sense of community for women in the field, offering them the opportunity to visit tech companies and conferences for women, to enable them to meet other women in the field.

“Of particular note is the inclusive, welcoming community” at the UW “that spans beyond the walls of the university and has demonstrably advanced women’s meaningful participation in computing,” wrote Lucy Sanders, CEO and co-founder of the national center, in the award letter announcing the prize.

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