CAPPS - Avocacy and Communication Professional Development

California Association of Private Postsecondary Schools

Wanted: Women who want a college degree in a STEM field

11/04/2013

Just 37% of this year's freshman class at Georgia Tech is female.

And that's increase over previous years, thanks in part to the school's dedicated women's recruitment team. Comprised of 75 current Georgia Tech students and an advisor, the team's initiatives include speaking at high schools, hosting online chats and setting up campus visit events.

"It's a whole, broad push," says Laura Diamond, spokesman for Georgia Tech. We want girls to be thinking about STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) overall, she explains.

At the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), a number of the school's upper level leadership is female, including the dean of the engineering school, which means the school has the responsibility to recruit talented young women, says April Welch, acting director of graduate admissions.

Getting young women interested and immersed in computer science programs comes at a time when one million new jobs in tech-related fields will be created in the next decade.

But fewer women are going into these fields. Just about 2% of women have a degree in a high-tech field, according to Catalyst.

Currently, a quarter of all Americans in computer-related occupations are women, compare that figure to countries like Oman and Qatar, whose governments emphasize girls' education and STEM fields.

How can American colleges and universities get women interested in computer science and tech — and how can schools ensure their success?

These are questions Harvey Mudd College President Maria Klawe has been tackling for the past few years.

In 2005 when Klawe became Harvey Mudd's president, 10% of graduates with computer science degrees were women. In 2011, that figure went up to 40%.

Klawe says Harvey Mudd fosters a collaborative and supportive environment, one that starts the minute students are enrolled.


Klawe explains that because "women are raised to be helpful and nurturing," they tend to be interested in programs that can be framed in a real world approach to solve problems.

Consultation and advice from her school have helped Sabina Nilakhe, a senior computer science major at DePaul University.

"At first, it's intimidating being the only girl in a class of 20-plus guys," says Nilakhe.

But because of personalized classroom attention and a number of programs for women that the school provides — like tutoring by graduate students or weekly chats over lunch — she says it's a lot less intimidating and has thoroughly enjoyed her experience.

At Columbia University, the Women in Computer Science (WiCS) organization hosts campus speakers who talk about what it's like being a women in a top tech position. They also run a graduate-undergraduate mentorship program to aid underclassmen women in anything from study methods to applying for jobs.

Jiaqi Liu, president of the organization and Columbia senior, says the group does a lot of outreach to members of the school's freshman and sophomore classes before they are required to declare a major. They want women know that computer science is a field they can flourish in.

USA TODAY.  November 2, 2013.  At Harvey Mudd, support for its female students have led to outstanding graduation rates, Klawe explains, and gainful employment.

Harvey Mudd sends graduates to companies like Yelp and Microsoft, the former has 18 graduates working there and the latter has had 30 over the past four years, Klawe explains.

"It's not surprising women work well here," she says.