Women in Computer Sciences:
Closing the Gender Gap in Higher Education

Allan Fisher and Jane Margolis, PIs
School of Computer Science
Carnegie Mellon University

Despite the pivotal role that computers play in our economy and culture, and despite explosive growth in the job market, only 15-20% of undergraduate computer science majors at leading U.S. departments are female. While girls and women may be using the internet for communication and the web for information-retrieval, it is predominantly men who are programming the computers, designing and fixing the systems, and inventing the technology that will affect all aspects of our lives. The under-representation of women among the creators of information technology has serious consequences, not only for those women whose potential goes unrealized, but also for a society increasingly shaped by that technology.

Starting in 1995, we have engaged in an interdisciplinary program of research and action in response to this situation. The research effort has been to understand male and female students' engagement -- attachment, persistence, and detachment -- with computer science, with a special focus on the gender imbalance in the field. Students in the study have been interviewed once per semester about their family and schooling history, experiences with computing, feelings and attitudes about studying computer science. The goal of the action component has been to devise and effect changes in curriculum, pedagogy and culture that will encourage the broadest possible participation in the computing enterprise.

In part as a result of our efforts, the entering enrollment of women in the undergraduate Computer Science program at Carnegie Mellon has risen from 8% in 1995 to 42% in 2000 [see news articles, Carnegie Mellon women's group].

A book on this research is now available:
Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing
MIT Press, 2002, ISBN 0262133989.

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