Harvey Mudd turns around ebb in female computer scientists

maria+klawe+skateboard.jpgComputer science has been the biggest of the so-called STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) where the percentage of women students in the U.S. has been waning. "It must be the unique area of science and technology where women have made negative progress,” says Nicholas Pippenger, a mathematics professor at Harvey Mudd College, in the New York Times. The story by Katie Hafner is actually about how the college's president since 2006, Maria Klawe, has managed to reverse the trend at Harvey Mudd, one of the Claremont Colleges. (Bloomberg-Business Week did essentially the same story last September.) From the NYT:

The situation at Mudd was even grimmer. Of the college’s 750 students, about a third were women (the figure is now closer to half), but for years the percentage of computer science graduates had been hovering around the single digits.

How Dr. Klawe (pronounced KLAH-vay) and her faculty turned things around — this year, nearly 40 percent of Harvey Mudd’s computer science degrees will go to women — sheds light on a gender gap that elsewhere remains stubbornly resistant to changing times.

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Dr. Klawe and others speak of “converting” female students to computer science. The idea, they say, is to make the introductory course enjoyable and interesting enough that women who were thinking of other majors choose computer science instead.

One key step: revising the introductory computer science course required of all Harvey Mudd students to make it more welcoming to those who were not already seasoned programmers. Klawe, 60, was told throughout her schooling and early career as a mathematician and computer scientist that things she was interested in things were not for women, says Pippenger, her husband.

Klawe, by the way, might be the only local college president who uses her summers to memorize the names and faces of all incoming freshmen — and who traverses campus on a skateboard.

Cropped photo of Klawe: Jason Wang/New York Times/Redux at Bloomberg


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