The NY Times published an article by Katie Hafner, Giving Women the Access Code, which is a mixture of a puff piece for the president of Harvey Mudd College (Maria Klawe) and a discussion of the partial success they’ve had in raising the number of women in their computer science program so that “this year, nearly 40 percent of Harvey Mudd’s computer science degrees will go to women”. That is still not at the goal of 50%, but it is a lot better than most colleges are doing (32% at CMU, 30% at MIT, 10% at UCSC).
Note: the game-design major at UCSC, which dwarfs the traditional CS program, has almost exactly the same gender ratio as the traditional program.
The article by Hafner attributes the success of getting women to continue in CS at Harvey Mudd largely to a new intro to computer science course intended for students who have not had prior programming experience, taught in Python instead of Java and concentrating on applications of computer science across science. If that were all it took, UCSC would have much better ratios, as we’ve had CMPS 5P and BME 60 classes for several years, which look superficially very similar to Harvey Mudd’s “gold” intro to CS. They don’t seem to be resulting in many conversions to CS majors, though.
I think one major difference is that a course in computer science is required at Harvey Mudd, so more students who are initially reluctant to try it end up discovering that they enjoy the thrill of creating their own programs and debugging them.
Another major difference is that Maria Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd, is herself a computer scientist, and so serves as a very visible role model. At UCSC, the computer science faculty page lists 37 faculty, including lectures and adjunct faculty, only 4 of whom are women. Computer engineering is not doing much better with 4 out of 30. Biomolecular Engineering (which is where bioinformatics is taught) has 3 women out of 16 on the faculty page, which is slightly better, but very low for a bio-related science. None of the women in the computer sciences at UCSC are in particularly visible leadership positions.
The faculty gender ratios in computer engineering and computer science used to be much better at UCSC (say 15–20 years ago). It looks like recent hiring has been almost all male.
Hafner’s article was distributed to the UCSC School of Engineering faculty by one of the (male) computer science professors. I think it was intended to convey the message that it is possible to do a hell of a lot better than UCSC has been doing on gender ratios in computer science. It caught my eye both because of my own interest (I’m currently scheduled to teach BME 60 next year and hope to covert a couple of students from biology to bioinformatics), and because Harvey Mudd is one of the colleges that has come up in discussions of places that might be a good fit for my son.