Harvey Mudd’s percentage of female computer science graduates once hovered in the single digits. Now, it is over 40%. This considerable transformation is a direct result of Klawe’s leadership and insistence on making CS a more approachable and relevant field for women. Klawe and the computer science faculty split the required ‘introductory’ course (which was described as “hard-core programming”) into two levels more tailored to specific programming experience. By creating separate classes where students can work alongside others that have similar experience, Klawe is combating the stereotype that programming is an innate skill.
|Bill Gates and Maria Klawe at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash., in 2005.|
Elaine Thompson/Associated Press
Klawe’s enormous success in a relatively short period of time suggests that the dearth of women in CS is not due to differences in intellectual capacity, but rather, how CS classes are portrayed and taught. This is consistent with our research suggesting that it is negative perceptions of CS that deter women and not the content of the field itself. For example, our research has shown that simply changing the classroom environment from stereotypical to neutral can boost female undergraduates’ interest in CS to that of their male peers. The strategies employed by Klawe—dividing classes into levels based on difficulty and required experience, providing programming work with context and meaning, and applying the lessons to a larger picture—help create a less stereotypical experience and result in CS being more attractive option for women.
What do you think? Have you heard of other universities re-evaluating their computer science programs? Are the changes better for the field?
Want to see more? Check out an interview of Klawe on PBS.
Posted By: Patty