It is well known in computer science circles that women earn only 18.2% of CS bachelors degrees, despite the fact that they earn 57.3% of college degrees overall. Many attempts have been made to explain this disparity, and to reverse the trend as we go forward. The University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Computer Science is no exception. Although UTCS is only a small subset of the computing world, if there is ever to be a change in the numbers above, groups like UTCS will have to do their part.
Thankfully, we have a number of ways that we have already started to address the CS gender gap, including recruitment and retention of women in our department. The benefits of recruitment are obvious. With more women entering into our department, we will likely see more graduates who can go on to be pioneers in this field soon after. Retention is also key, seeing as in industry women are 45% more likely to leave science, engineering and technology fields within a year than men.
UT has the opportunity to make a marked impact on the gender composition of its computer science program by expanding and building upon the recruitment efforts it has already undertaken. One example of this was this past year when the National Center for Women in Information and Technology awarded UTCS with a grant funded by Google intended to help them recruit female students. This money was put towards hiring a group of five UTCS undergraduates who spent time reaching out to admitted women considering joining the department the following year with everything from phone calls to Facebook chats. The prospective students were also invited to a lunch during Explore UT and a visit day in April where they could meet current students and get a feel for the department.
First Bytes is a free week-long summer camp held at UT Austin that also seeks to encourage high school girls to pursue STEM fields in college, and scholarships are often offered to those who come to UTCS after they attend. This year, nineteen of the sixty campers decided to major in computer science at UT Austin, and six of these girls were admitted to the Turing Scholars honors program. Matriculation rates among First Bytes campers have nearly doubled since the program began in 2006, despite the number of attendees remaining fairly constant.
The Department of Computer Science supports women who are already enrolled in a number of ways as well. For instance, a program called Week With Women is held every year, with events held each night including guest speakers and a faculty appreciation dinner. The department also sponsored twenty-four students who attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in October. As Tiffany Buckley explains, this conference is a “chance for [the students] to meet other women in technology, hear about cutting edge research, and build a small community there.”
Both male and female students are also involved in Women in Computer Science, which is an organization with the mission of “encouraging and supporting women in computing through outreach, professional development, academic initiatives and social events.” As Tiffany Buckley explains, WiCS is “a good retention program… just having that community for women helps them.”
There is still much to be done to address gender disparities in technology, and participation in this cause is needed across a wide spectrum of groups. As a whole, however, UTCS cares about diversity and is taking steps towards making it more of a reality in the future.
- The department has a lot of control over how it chooses to present itself to the outside world and
- focus on recruitment not on admissions