Carnegie Mellon Receives Sloan Grant to Increase Number Of Women Studying Computer Science at the Graduate Level

BY Byron Spice - Tue, 2003-11-18 12:00  Printer-friendly version

PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science (SCS) has received a $400,000, three-year grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to fund a program aimed at increasing the number of women studying computer science at the graduate level.

The new program—Women@IT—will place special emphasis on attracting women who have done their undergraduate work in fields outside of computer science, such as mathematics, biology, physics or psychology.

It will build upon the success of SCS' eight-year-old initiative to attract and retain women in the computer science undergraduate program. Since that effort began in 1995, the number of women entering at the undergraduate level has increased fivefold from 8 percent in 1995 to 35-40 percent since 1999.

"We are very happy to have this grant from the Sloan Foundation to launch our new program," said SCS Distinguished Career Professor Lenore Blum, who will direct Women@IT in conjunction with co-directors SCS Associate Dean Jeannette Wing and Women@SCS Associate Director Carol Frieze. "The grant is a significant recognition of our progress at the undergraduate level and our plans to adapt its successful strategies to our graduate programs."

In 1995 with funds from Sloan and the National Science Foundation, the Computer Science Department in SCS began a concerted effort to increase the number of women in its undergraduate program. In 1999 under the direction of Blum, an expert at creating successful programs to increase the participation of women in science and technology, the department launched Women@SCS. This organization, which provides crucial professional and educational experiences such as networking and mentoring, has helped to transform the culture of computing at Carnegie Mellon.

"Women@SCS has been very fortunate to have the support of the university administration, in particular, President Jared Cohon, Provost Mark Kamlet and SCS Dean Jim Morris," said Blum. The new program also has full support of top administrators in computer science and other divisions of SCS.

"We are committed to increasing the participation of women in our doctoral program," said Randal Bryant, head of the Computer Science Department. "Our doctoral program in computer science has a long track record of producing the technical leaders in the IT industry and in academia. We are committed to increasing the participation of women in our program to enable more women to become the movers and shakers of the field."

"Women@IT is an extension of Women@SCS," Blum explained. "Instead of focusing solely on computer science majors, our strategy for Women@IT is to also consider women coming from other fields who want to integrate their expertise with computer science and computing-related disciplines. The departments and graduate programs in SCS, which include computer science, robotics, software engineering, human-computer interaction, language technologies, and learning and discovery, reflect a broad, interdisciplinary view of the field. So we appreciate students with diverse perspectives."

"We want to welcome students with a broad range of backgrounds, to expand the viewpoints that our community brings to research and education," said Chuck Thorpe, head of the Robotics Institute in the School of Computer Science.

Women@IT will adapt key features that led to the success of the undergraduate program, which included outreach to high school teachers, replacement of emphasis on prior programming experience in the admissions criteria with students' potential to become leaders and visionaries in the field, provision of multiple entry routes into the curriculum, and provision of crucial professional and educational experiences through Women@SCS.

The graduate program will mirror these features by implementing outreach to college faculty and students and by providing professional workshops for students in the program. Women@IT will also encourage exceptional students who do not have all the prerequisites for SCS graduate programs. The program will provide an initial "buffer year" for students with nontraditional backgrounds that will include a tailored menu of courses and appropriate advising.

Women@IT fellowships will be available each year on a competitive basis. Sloan, the Computer Science Department, the Robotics Institute and the Carnegie Mellon Provost's Office are providing initial funds for these fellowships.

"We hope this program will result in a greatly enlarged pool of women to serve as future faculty in IT departments across the country, leaders in the profession nationwide and role models for generations to come," said Blum. "We are moving against trends in society that have resulted in a 'shrinking pipeline' of women in IT fields. We believe our program can be a model for other institutions across the country and help to reverse this trend."

For More Information: 

Byron Spice | 412-268-9068 | bspice [atsymbol] cs.cmu.edu