January 2006


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Stefanie Ploof <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Technology Discussion at UVM <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 12 Jan 2006 13:07:18 -0500
TEXT/PLAIN (359 lines)
Raise your hand if you work in IT but -don't- have a CS degree.  Now, look
around the room.  Point made.

On Thu, 12 Jan 2006, Alison Pechenick wrote:

> Hello everyone,
> The CEMS faculty received this today, and I found it to be an
> intriguing, and somewhat startling piece.
> Best wishes,
> Alison
> -------- Original Message --------
> Subject: 	From today's Chronicle of Higher Education
> Date: 	Thu, 12 Jan 2006 09:00:51 -0500
> The Chronicle of Higher Education <>
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Information Technology <>
>   From the issue dated January 13, 2006
>        Wanted: Female Computer-Science Students
> * Colleges work to attract and support women in technology majors*
> Are computer programmers from Mars? Is computer science a guy thing?
> Some experts are wondering just that  at least, as it is taught now.
> While other fields, like mathematics, science, and chemistry, have seen
> growing enrollment and involvement of women, the number of women in
> computer science and related fields remains low and stagnant. According
> to the Computing Research Association, only 17 percent of undergraduate
> computer-science degrees were awarded to women in 2004, down from 19
> percent in 2000. Those dwindling numbers come at a crucial time for the
> discipline, which has seen shrinking enrollments in since the dot-com bust.
> Could it be that men are more attracted to the nuts and bolts of
> computers, while women are more interested in the social and cultural
> applications of the devices? Perhaps computer-science programs, suggest
> some researchers, are stacked against women and the way they learn.
> Some women who have been successful in computer science, however, say
> that is nonsense. What is needed, they say, is more social support for
> women in the discipline  and for peers and parents to stop telling
> girls that computers are not for them.
> To provide that support, programs and clubs for women in computer
> science have recently cropped up at colleges across the country, notably
> at Carnegie Mellon University and at the University of
> Maryland-Baltimore County.
> Women who want to go into computer fields can face discouragement and
> discrimination from as early as grade school, through college, and into
> the work world. Consider the story of Kim, who graduated from Ohio
> University in 2004. Kim, who asked to remain anonymous, arrived at the
> university intending to major in mass communications. But, having grown
> up building ham radios with her father, she thought a technical field
> would provide better job options and offer more of a challenge.
> Communications-systems management, a technical degree with lots of
> programming, was definitely challenging, but not in ways she had
> anticipated. She was one of only a handful of women in the program. "The
> guys wanted to be my partner when it came to writing papers, but no one
> wanted to be my partner when it came to lab time," she says.
> Advising sessions for the degree were held at a local bar. "All the guys
> would sit together, eating the hot wings," she says. "I hated going
> there, because I knew that unless the other girls showed up, I would be
> sitting by myself."
> The challenges did not end when she got her first job after graduation,
> at AT&T, as the only woman on a team of techies charged with selling
> equipment and services. On her first day, a senior male colleague tossed
> a pencil on the floor in front of her. "Could you pick that up?" he
> cooed, clearly wanting to ogle her.
> "I was floored," she says. "I called home that night and just cried."
> *Downward Trend*
> Studies of women in technology inevitably refer to /Unlocking the
> Clubhouse: Women in Computing,/ a highly influential and celebrated
> study of women in computer science, based on research conducted largely
> in the late 1990s at Carnegie Mellon. At the time of the study, only 7
> percent of the computer-science majors at Carnegie Mellon were women.
> Nationwide, "things have not changed that much," says Jane Margolis, a
> researcher at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies
> at the University of California at Los Angeles, who was one of the
> book's authors. "In fact, they've gotten worse."
> Her studies indicate that boys get more hands-on experience with
> computers at home. In addition, she says, games and computer software
> are generally designed by guys, for guys, and tend to engage boys more
> than girls.
> In high-school and college courses, computer science is presented as
> straight programming, which is seen as tedious, especially by women, she
> says. Men are generally interested in computers as tools and objects of
> study, according to her research; women are more interested in what
> computers can do for science, the arts, or society.
> "What our research found was that their motivation for learning computer
> science very much hung on the purpose that computing was going to be
> used for," she says. "It wasn't just hacking for hacking's sake. There
> was a real social context that gave them motivation and meaning."
> In response to such findings, Carnegie Mellon changed the admissions
> policies for its School of Computer Science in 1999. Instead of
> primarily looking for students who had prior programming experience, the
> university broadened its criteria to include students who had ambitious
> goals, who showed leadership skills, and, of course, who had excellent
> grades. After 2000, the number of women entering the computer-science
> program went from below 10 percent to more than 30 percent and has held
> steady there since.
> Lenore Blum, a professor of computer science, arrived at Carnegie Mellon
> just as the admissions policy changed and as the population of women in
> the program surged. Local newspapers were celebrating the arrival of
> women in the computer-science program. "I could see that unless we did
> something that provided the critical professional support for women in
> the program," Ms. Blum says, "you would see articles the following year
> saying that half the students had dropped out."
> She wanted to set up a program that would foster the professional
> experiences and support for women at Carnegie Mellon that are "implicit
> and often not acknowledged for a majority in a population," she says.
> The program, called Women@SCS, draws prominent female speakers from the
> world of technology who can serve as role models for the students. It
> runs a mentor service, in which women who are juniors and seniors can
> counsel freshmen and sophomores, offering support for course work or for
> dealing with the rigors of the major. Social occasions, like lunches,
> are set up to provide opportunities for the women to network.
> "These are common-sense things to do, but you've got to do them," Ms.
> Blum says, adding that she is tired of hearing people bemoan the fact
> that computer science is losing female students. "What I'm realizing is
> that there is too much talk the talk and not enough walk the walk. We
> have the complete support of the president, the provost, the dean, and
> the chair of the department. They're not just saying, 'Hey, you're doing
> a good job.' They are paying the bill."
> *'Bias In, Bias Out'*
> The expanded population of women in Carnegie Mellon's computer-science
> program has given Ms. Blum the opportunity to do her own research on the
> classes of 2002 and 2004. She says her findings contradict some of the
> conclusions of /Unlocking the Clubhouse./ The book's research was
> tainted by "bias in, bias out," she argues, reflecting Carnegie Mellon's
> admissions requirements at the time, which rewarded programming
> experience that male students were more likely to possess.
> Ms. Blum does not believe that women are oriented toward applications
> and that men are oriented toward programming. "We didn't see any gender
> differences at all, but found similar spectra in men and women," she
> says. "We found that there were some men who were hackers and some women
> who were hackers. ... One of the women we interviewed said that she
> kisses her computer every morning."
> "To say that there are intrinsic male and female differences and you
> have to accommodate for those is absolutely wrong," she says. "Don't
> devise the curriculum so that it's female-friendly. That will only serve
> to marginalize women."
> Other colleges have set up programs like [log in to unmask] The University of
> Maryland-Baltimore County recently started the Center for Women and
> Information Technology, or CWIT, as it is more commonly known. The
> center supports female students in computer science, information
> science, computer engineering, and information studies. Women in the
> center's program live together on a designated floor of a residence
> hall, allowing for the sort of support that all-night programming
> sessions require. The center also helps women make connections with
> local companies for jobs and internships.
> CWIT attempts to counter some of the negative influences that have
> ground down the students' self-esteem. Lindsay Mannchen, a senior, says
> she was one of two girls in her high-school programming courses, where
> her male peers told her again and again that she was no good at
> programming and that she was out of place.
> "One of guys I grew up with and was in all of the classes with told me
> that, scientifically, girls were not programmed to do math like guys
> could," she says. "And I believed him."
> Since joining the CWIT program in college, her attitude has changed,
> "mostly because I'm surrounded by girls who say, 'That's not right;
> don't listen to that,'" she says.
> "I do notice that a lot of my classes are male-dominated, and in
> information science, we do a lot of group projects," she says. "The guys
> don't want to listen to the girls, unless you stand up and prove
> yourself right away."
> The women's center is not all women. A select group of male students is
> involved with the program, a strategy to draw UMBC men into the
> conversation about women in technical fields. "It's not so much that
> only women can encourage us," says Amanda Schwenk, a freshman. "It's
> that the guys realize that it's harder for women to get a start or keep
> going in this, and that it's not exactly socially acceptable."
> *Social Factors*
> Claudia Morrell, executive director of CWIT, is not a computer scientist
> but a psychologist who has been studying the attitudes and influences of
> women and girls in computer science. Support programs for female
> computer-science majors can help women stay in the discipline, she
> argues, but crucial influences in childhood are strong factors in
> steering girls away from computer science and related fields.
> "Parents are students' No. 1 source for decisions in career making," Ms.
> Morrell says. "Daughters tend to identify or align themselves with their
> mothers, and mothers aren't often the ones who are involved with
> technology." Meanwhile, dad is the one who is often fussing with the
> computer, hooking up the home stereo system, or even has a job involving
> technology.
> When girls enter middle school, Ms. Morrell says, these perceptions
> begin to solidify into career goals, as young people start to form their
> identities. "At that age, gender issues become important as an
> expression of personal identity," she says. Too often, a middle-school
> girl who says she wants to be a computer scientist is treated much like
> a boy who says he wants to be a nurse  the professions carry gender
> identities, even if they are outdated.
> Those gender identities still have power over enrollment choices. If
> schools offer computer-science or programming courses  and all too
> often they don't, scholars say  enrollment is often dominated by boys,
> who are already playing around with computers at home. A middle-school
> girl in a programming class might feel as out of place as a boy in a
> sewing course.
> Add to all those influences the image of computer scientists and
> programmers well known in the media: the brilliant but socially inept
> mumbler who could use a few tips on hairstyles and clothes.
> "Unfortunately, computer fields have a geeky image," Ms. Morrell says,
> "and girls in particular don't want to be perceived as geeks and nerds."
> So by the time girls enter high school and start thinking about colleges
> and careers, computer science and related technology fields are distant
> thoughts compared with biology, chemistry, and mathematics, which have
> seen tremendous growth in women's participation in the past few decades.
> Ms. Morrell and others at UMBC are trying to change that in Maryland
> with a couple of programs that are specifically aimed at middle-school
> girls. The university runs a summer program that invites girls to
> explore science and technology. While the girls are digging into
> computers, people from CWIT sit down with parents to talk about the
> troubles of attracting women to computer science, the subtle influences
> on that trend within the home, and the potential women have in the field.
> The university also runs an after-school program at six suburban
> Baltimore middle schools, focusing on hands-on activities in science and
> technology. Supported by a $1-million grant from the National Science
> Foundation, the program covers basic tenets of science and technology,
> while giving students the opportunity to tear apart cameras to see how
> they work, to put together telephones from kits and string together a
> telephone network, and to create presentations on computers.
> At a middle school in Essex, an economically depressed community east of
> Baltimore, Renee Yusuff and Anissa Nixon pore over a diagram for
> assembling a blue plastic telephone, barely looking up to answer a
> reporter's questions.
> "I learned how to use a digital camera and how to use PowerPoint," Renee
> says when asked about her favorite lessons in the program. "I want to go
> into information technology." Anissa says that she is considering some
> kind of career in engineering.
> True to Ms. Morrell's observations, the girls have had strong role
> models in technology within their families. Renee learned about
> computers from her uncle, who used to work on them in the basement at
> home. Anissa's mother used to climb telephone poles to repair lines for
> Verizon. "She was one of the only women in that job," Anissa says, then
> adds proudly, "and she was one of the best."
> *Mentors Needed*
> Among college women in computer science who were interviewed by The
> Chronicle, many recounted special circumstances from childhood that
> helped them enter the field and stick with it.
> Amy Goodwin, a junior at Carnegie Mellon, picked up computers as early
> as elementary school because she had a learning disability that affected
> her handwriting. She dug into her laptop, a constant companion, and
> learned some common programming languages by sixth grade.
> In programming classes in high school  at an all-girls school in
> Maryland, where, she says, girls "don't have to pretend not to be smart
> when they're around guys"  she says she knew far more than the students
> who enrolled from a nearby boys' school. Her mother, a law professor,
> was a strong figure in her life and taught her by example to persevere
> in a profession that is still an old-boys' club.
> She considers her gender an asset  something that might make her stand
> out in job applications. Recruiters from Microsoft and from Google  who
> brought shirts with the o's in Google transformed into female symbols 
> came to Carnegie Mellon to talk about the opportunities for women in
> their companies. But she has also heard, from women who graduated from
> Carnegie Mellon a few years ago, stories about male colleagues who said
> things like "You don't belong here" and "You're only here because you're
> a woman."
> "Those are the people that are out there in the work world," she says.
> Ms. Blum and Ms. Morrell point out that their programs for women are
> building alumnae networks, through which women can find out about
> friendly workplaces and evangelize about the field. National
> organizations like the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology,
> which is composed of female professionals from the computer industry and
> academe, provide opportunities for women in the working world to get
> together and support one another.
> Progress may come, if slowly. Computer science, Ms. Morrell points out,
> was once the dominion of women. Early programmers, called "computers,"
> were women who worked on huge mainframe computers during World War II.
> Grace Murray Hopper, an early programmer, is celebrated as a pioneer in
> the field, having found the first computer "bug." Ada Byron Lovelace, a
> 19th-century mathematician, is credited with writing the first computer
> program.
> "We forget to celebrate," Ms. Morrell says, noting the progress that has
> been made over the years in mathematics and other sciences. "It's simply
> a matter of time before women see the professional opportunities and the
> financial opportunities. We'll reach a tipping point where women reach
> some level of comfort, and this will no longer be a problem."
> Section: Information Technology
> Volume 52, Issue 19, Page A35
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Copyright <>  2006 by The
> Chronicle of Higher Education <>
> --
> Alison Pechenick, Lecturer
> Department of Computer Science
> College of Engineering & Mathematical Sciences
> 351 Votey Building
> University of Vermont
> Burlington, VT 05405
> (802)656-2547