The Harvey Mudd Story: From 10% to 40% female in CS in three years

Maria Klawe presents the problem of gender diversity in Computer Science programs – namely the underrepresentation of women. Maria talks about her endeavor as School President at Harvey Mudd College in bringing female representation in CS from 10% to 40% in three years. This is a very important problem as this underrepresentation also carries forward in the industry. Some of the things that the CS department did was to adapt the introductory course to make it more application focused (switched from Java to approaches to problem-solving in Python), eliminated student macho behavior by segmenting into groups based on prior experience, took first-year female students to Hopper conference and provided summer research experiences to females between first & second year. I enjoyed this talk. The concepts presented here are applicable to anyone trying to foster an inclusive workforce.


 

Notes from the talk:

Why so few enter CS
- Females think CS is less interesting than other areas
- Females think they will not do as well in CS as in other areas
- Females (and males) encouraged to major in what interests them and what they are good at.

Why some leave CS
- Lack of confidence
- Lack of sense of belonging

The Harvey Mudd College Story
- Undergrad only
- 750 students
- 90 faculty, seven departments
- Science and engineering
- Every student takes a CS course in their first semester

Female students at HMC over all:
- 22% in 1997
- 32% in 2006
- 45% in 2012
- Entering class in 2012 was 47.5% female

Female faculty at HMC over all:
- About 20% in 1997
- 35% in 2006
- 42% in 2010

What the CS department did...
- Changed the intro course
- Eliminated student macho behavior
- Took first year females to Hopper
- Provided summer research experiences between first and second year

Changing the intro course
- Old course: learning to program in Java
- New course: team-based computational approaches to problem-solving using Python
- Grouping by prior experience
- CS 5 gold, CS 5 black, CS 43
- Elimination of macho behavior for CS 5 and CS 60

What carries over to the other institutions
- Make intro courses the most fun ever
- Eliminate macho behavior
- Build confidence
-- Team projects
-- Assignments in labs
-- Encourage
- Take students to Hopper
-- Hold a local Impostor panel
- Offer females summer research experiences
- Recruit biology, chemistry, psychology majors into CS
-- Double majors, joint courses

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