- Associated Press - Saturday, May 7, 2016

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) - It didn’t take long for three Colorado State University undergrads to notice they weren’t like most computer science students.

Grace Walkuski realized the difference during the 2015 Ram Welcome when she and other freshman were introduced to CSU’s Computer Science Department, the Coloradoan reported (https://noconow.co/1NbnNJo).

“I was looking around and there were like 10 girls out of at least 100 people,” she said. ” … So many guys.”

CSU isn’t alone in struggling to get females interested in computer science majors. Dozens of schools across the country are seeing a similar gender gap that could prevent thousands of women from accessing high-paying, in-demand computer science jobs.

“Beyond a purely practical sense, computer science is just a really cool field and it’s really sad that women who might be really, really good might choose not to pursue computer science,” sophomore Laura South said.

South, Walkuski and Amber Nolte lead CSU’s Association for Computing Machinery - Women to support female students pursuing computer science and draw more women to the department. The group of about 40 members is one of a handful of efforts that have sprung up at CSU in recent years to increase female enrollment in computer science.

The department is experimenting with ways to attract, retain and graduate more women, professor Chris Wilcox said. In recent years, Wilcox and other faculty introduced new scholarships, training events, curriculum changes and high school outreach programs.

The changes follow Wilcox and others realizing the gender gap in classes and hearing a growing national chorus about declining female participation in computer science.

In 2016, CSU’s Computer Science Department started training teaching assistants to recognize and report harassment and to grade without gender bias. The department also started talking to students in introductory classes about creating a positive environment for all students.

For the last two years, the department has been luring a handful of incoming diverse students to the major with $1,000 scholarships. The school also gives one or two diverse students excelling in the program $5,000 annually.

“We want to keep the same high standards while increasing female participation,” Wilcox said. “We owe it to them to give them the opportunity because these are some of the best-paying jobs that exist right now and if they’re being edged out or discouraged, then we’re doing this group of students a disservice.”

The average starting salary for computer science majors was projected at $61,287 in 2015, according to an analysis published by USA TODAY. The only college majors expected to earn more - $62,998 on average - were engineering grads.

Money alone might not be enough to meet the workforce needs of employers. To help address demand for programmers, developers and other professionals, Google and other companies are looking at ways to get more women interested and enrolled in computer science programs.

In 2014, Google published a study stating, ” … the lack of female participation in computer science exacerbates a pre-existing problem with labor supply shortages: the overall need for computer science professionals has severely outstripped the number of graduates entering the workforce.”

The study found that universities and employers can take action to address the lack of women in computer science. “That’s not to say this is a problem that can be solved easily, but it is a problem that can be tackled with deliberate and directed action focused on encouragement and exposure.”

It’s hard to understand why so few women are coming into computer science, said Janice Nerger, dean of the College of Natural Sciences at CSU. “You have to be able to recognize people like yourself in your discipline.”

Nerger plans to ask for money for diversity efforts during the January budget hearings at CSU.

“I don’t think we should be asking for more funds until we’ve run the experiment and seen what works,” she said. “I don’t have a specific goal (for graduation rates) except to be better than the national average.”

National and Local Computer Science Graduation Rates

During the most recent 2014-2015 school year, 9 percent - 10 of 116 - undergraduate computer science degrees were conferred to women at CSU, according to CSU data.

Nationwide, undergraduate women earned 18 percent of computer and information-science degrees in 2013-2014, down from a 37 percent peak in 1983-1984, according to the National Center For Education Statistics. The federal organization did not have more recent numbers readily available.


Information from: Fort Collins Coloradoan, https://www.coloradoan.com

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