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September 8th, 2013 at 9:15 am

Carnegie Mellon increases the proportion of women in computer science from 7% to 42%

In 2004, 30% of undergraduate computer science degrees awarded at Carnegie Mellon were to women.

Allan Fisher, the Associate Dean of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, realized there was a gender ratio problem in the department in 1995. Only 7% of freshman computer science majors were women. Along with Jane Margolis, a social scientist, Fisher tried to figure out what they could do to change the ratio. By 2000, 42% of the freshman class was made up of women.




These changes not only attracted more women to computer science but also made the culture of the department more inclusive for everyone. In 2004, 30% of undergraduate computer science degrees awarded at Carnegie Mellon were to women.

Here are 4 things they implemented to recruit and retain more women in the field:

1. Outreach to high schools

During 1996 through 1998, CMU set up summer institutes for computer science high school teachers where 25% of the curriculum focused on how to provide gender equity instruction. 16% of all high school AP CS teachers in the nation participated in this program. They also directly reached out to high school girls who did well in math and science through activities like Tech nights.

2. A more inclusive admissions process

In the past, admissions gave preference to people with lots of previous programming experience. The new criteria focused on potential by targeting students who showed science and math aptitude as well as non-academic strengths like leadership. The department made it explicit that no prior experience was required.

3. Broaden the scope of early coursework

Early in the curriculum freshmen learned about various areas of research, which introduced them to the broad potential impact of the field. New classes focused on how computer science could impact society. “Technology Consulting in the Community,” for example, provided opportunities for students to help non-profits solve real-world technical problems.

4. Programs to change peer culture

Women @ SCS was started to provide support and mentorship for women in computer science. A Big Sister / Little Sister program paired upper-class and graduate students with freshmen. The organization also hosted panels and events that addressed women’s issues.

“The goal should not be to fit women into computer science but rather to change computer science.” – Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher This year 35% of the freshman class is women. For more details on the Carnegie Mellon study on gender and computer science, check out Margolis’ paper here as well as more recent studies here. We would love to hear from you. What do you think the implications of these changes are?

Via Hacking Play


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