Women Total 48.5% of Carnegie Mellon’s 2016 Computer Science Class

Posted By Terri Williams on October 26, 2016 at 12:51 pm
Women Total 48.5% of Carnegie Mellon’s 2016 Computer Science Class

To our readers: Today, GoodCall examines progress – or the lack thereof – made by women in the college classroom and in the workplace. Writer Terri Williams found one respected computer science program that has made great strides in recruiting women. Earlier, Terri examined a new report on the state of young women in the workplace. In both cases, a major key to success is having strong women mentors and role models.

Take a peek into a typical computer science program classroom around the country: 5 of every 6 students will be male. But Carnegie-Mellon’s never been typical – particularly when it comes to its highly rated computer science curriculum. The latest stride: Women make up 48.5% of the enrollment in the class this year.

Here’s why it’s a good thing, especially for women. A recent survey revealed computer science is one of the best majors for jobs of the future, and another survey found half of high-paying jobs required coding skills.

Other recent research, however, revealed that some female students might avoid STEM and business majors because of a perceived marriage market penalty. That’s not happening at Carnegie Mellon, where the enrollment increase comes on the heels of a 38% increase in the number of women who applied to the program.  In addition, 43.3% of students in CMU’s 2016 College of Engineering are women.

The increases in the enrollment of women in both departments during the past four years have been impressive. Consider the numbers on female enrollment:

2013 2014 2015 2016
School of Computer Science 34.60% 40.60% 31.30% 48.50%
College of Engineering 32.40% 35.60% 36.10% 43.30%

The significance of the computer science gender numbers

Telle Whitney, president and CEO of the Anita Borg Institute, a nonprofit organization designed to recruit, retain, and advance women in technology, tells GoodCall, “Carnegie Mellon is an important role model for other schools in their commitment to increase the participation of women in computer science.” Whitney says this achievement demonstrates Carnegie Mellon’s commitment to gender parity – this will change the educational experience for its women students and also provide role models and possibly inspire other women to pursue STEM majors.

Karen Panetta, associate dean for Graduate Education at Tufts University, IEEE Fellow, and editor-in-chief of IEEE Women in Engineering magazine, tells GoodCall, “(Carnegie Mellon) has one of the most famous Computer Science  programs in the world and any student being accepted into their CS program has to be among the best students in the country.”

While closing the gender parity gap would be noteworthy at any school, it’s particularly remarkable at Carnegie Mellon for another reason. “We usually hear schools boasting that they have 30% to 40% women in their entering STEM classes, but what they don’t tell you is that most of the students are concentrated only in environmental, biomedical or chemical engineering – computer science and computer engineering are traditionally the lowest represented fields for women,” Panetta explains.

But the feat is also noteworthy for yet another reason. Adriane Bradberry, communications director at the National Center for Women and Information Technology, tells GoodCall that diversity is important in the development of technologies. “As a society, we lose out on potential innovations when we do not have a diverse workforce fully participating in technology creation.”

As Chris Fornaro, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) department head at The Shipley School, explains, “Having a balanced approach to problems in any discipline is important; different viewpoints can bring different ideas to the table and help push research, products, and discussions to the next level.”

Can Carnegie Mellon’s enrollment become typical?

Demonstrating what works involves practical models for other schools to follow, and several organizations have been instrumental in this area. Whitney tells GoodCall, “ABI has a program called BRAID (Building, Recruiting, and Inclusion for Diversity) that takes many of the practices that have shown results at both Carnegie Mellon and at Harvey Mudd College and works with other departments to apply these practices.”

According to Whitney, these practices include:

  • Modifying intro computer science courses to make them more appealing and less intimidating to under-represented students.
  • Leading outreach programs for high school teachers and students.
  • Building confidence and community among under-represented students.
  • Developing and/or promoting joint majors in areas that are attractive to under-represented students.

Recruiting women to computer science starts before college

The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, PA, educates students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.  Fornaro tells GoodCall, “Keeping as many doors open as possible for our female students is important as they move through the pivotal years of 6th through 12th grade and when they get to college.” He believes that female role models play an important role.

“Half of our STEAM teaching faculty are women in the Upper School; also, our Science Olympiad team has two female coaches.” Fornaro also believes that the students themselves can help foster excitement. “A great example of this is one of my 9th grade advisees is currently taking Robotics and brought her robot out to show the rest of her advisory.” As a result of her excitement, Fornaro says other students expressed a desire to take the course. “On a daily basis, we try to give female students the opportunity to showcase their work,” he says.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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