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Friday, August 17, 2018

Women in STEM? Don't Count Them Out

A great essay by UW's Computer Science and Engineering's Professor Anna Carlin, in reply to another essay by Stuart Reges, Why Women Don't Code."  It's worthy reading.
I see absolutely no reason to believe we have reached some sort of ceiling in the CS participation of women, because there are so many varied, complex and dynamic factors that affect whether a student studies CS. These factors include parental encouragement, pressure and expectations; socioeconomic factors; existence of role models; access to technology and exposure to programming at an early age; the quality of K-12 education; the culture of the field; self-confidence; gender norms; knowledge of what CS is; the impact technology is having on the economic, scientific and social aspects of our society; and the tyranny of low expectations.

Reges himself notes that 50% of the “women in our undergraduate major are `interest changers,’ which means they weren’t intending to apply to the major when they started our first course. For men the figure is closer to 20%, so there is a big gender gap.” In other words, a much larger percentage of women drawn to the field discover their interest in CS when they take their first CS course in college. This is consistent with my belief that significantly fewer girls than boys learn about programming or CS before college.

In fact, many students come to college having a total misconception about CS. Some of them have been playing video games their whole lives and think that this is what CS is about; others imagine themselves getting rich by becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg. These types of motivations for studying CS in college attract some students but leave others cold. It is incumbent upon us, the educators at every level, to reach out to these latter students, to expose the intellectual depth of the field and to convey the excitement that comes from solving a complex programming challenge.

2 comments:

old salt said...

Thanks to Professor Karlin for this response reminding us of our responsibility to keep open paths for the children in our community addressing as many of these barriers as possible.

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