A year ago, Harvard University's student newspaper dubbed computer science the most "gender-skewed" major on campus – meaning that many more men majored in computer science than women. Then something happened. In a year, the number of women majoring in computer science has nearly doubled on the Harvard campus.
"Computer science seems like a lot of fun, but it also proves to be a lifesaver," says Katrina Wong, a Harvard literature major who is considering switching to computer science. Since her father lost his job to the recession and she maxed out her credit cards, she's begun writing content for smart-phone apps that her college friends are creating for clients. "It's not a big income, but it buys me necessities as well as opens doors to profit-sharing opportunities."
The financial turmoil of the last few years has made it tougher for college graduates to find jobs. So women at several elite schools are turning to computer science – a field that they used to spurn – in hopes of landing secure employment opportunities after graduation. Their numbers are still small, but the influx of women into computer science programs may change the geeky male-dominated major into something far more cool.
"Men still seem to occupy the technology space," says Henry Chen, managing director of POM Partners, a New York-based digital-media advisory and consulting firm. But "compared with 10 years ago, we are slowly seeing more women enter the space."
An important catalyst driving women into the field of computer science is the concerted effort made by many schools to encourage women to do so. At the University of California, Berkeley, the director of diversity in the department of electrical engineering and computer science is spearheading a drive to get women into the field. The University of Texas [Department of Computer Science] hosts a free one-week camp for 60 high school girls called First Bytes.
As the pool of female computer science majors grows, one result may be that they encourage others to sign up. That's what's happening with Ms. Wong at Harvard. Two of her friends, both computer science majors, are urging her to switch. "They just thrive on problem solving," Wong says.
Given the state of the economy, it's a message that a growing number of college women may tune in to.
Read the full Fox 12 Oregon article, Worried about jobs, college women go 'geek' by Ilana Green.