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Closing the Computer Science Gender Gap: How One Woman Is Making a Difference in Many Lives

By The Conversation

June 10, 2015

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Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College and former president of ACM, says the decline of women's participation in computer science (CS) can be reversed. Klawe cites statistics showing that although nearly a third of CS degrees were awarded to women as recently as the mid-1990s, today that number is only 14 to 18 percent.

Female participation in CS education was low when Klawe joined Harvey Mudd in 2006, when only 10 percent of CS majors were women. Since then, the school has radically altered its CS curriculum to make it more appealing to women and those with little previous CS experience, and now women make up 40 percent of CS majors.

The changes the school made include a redesign of its introductory CS class, which is now the most popular class the university offers, and splitting the course into two sections: one for students with experience and one for those without experience. The faculty now assigns CS students to team-based projects, which cuts down on isolation, and offers students access to summer research opportunities, which has proven to increase female students' confidence and interest in the field.

Klawe says more needs to be done to attract not just women, but minorities, to CS, and this should include teaching CS at much earlier ages.

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