School of Computer Science

Carol Frieze, Ph.D.

Office: Gates 4115
Phone: 412-268-9071

email: cfrieze @

CRA-W The Computing Research Association's Committee on the Status of
Women in Computing Research
CREU: Collaborative Research Experience for Undergraduates in Computer Science and Engineering

Our CREU Project Title: Cultural Attitudes Towards Computer Science: How do they Affect Women’s Representation in the Field?



Elizabeth and Anthony present their research posters, illustrating work so far, at the CS Undergraduate Research Poster Session, Carnegie Mellon, December 2009



Elizabeth Kemp, Computer Science, Junior Elizabeth spent the past two summers working at the Brown University location of iDTech Camps teaching introductory programming courses to students between the ages of 9 and 17. In addition to the introductory programming courses, Elizabeth taught courses related to game design and game programming to students between the ages of 7 and 17. She has also worked for two semesters as a TA for computer science courses.

Elizabeth is an active member of Women@SCS. She has helped plan and host many of the events that Women@SCS holds each semester. She is one of the coordinators for the undergraduate Sisters program which pairs freshmen women with upperclassmen women as a way to connect freshmen women with someone who has been in the same situation who they can ask for advice. The Sisters program encourages Big Sisters (the upperclassmen women) to share their experiences and perceptions of computer science. Elizabeth has also helped with the Women@SCS Outreach Roadshow which is a program designed to help give high school and middle school students an introduction to the varied areas of computer science (not just programming) and to help students distinguish stereotypes about the field from reality.

Anthony Velazquez,
Computer Science, Senior

Anthony spent one summer working with high school computer science students as part of the Pa Governor’s School program. His duties included serving as a teaching assistant for computer science courses as well as assisting working on a computer science themed research project. He has maintained connections with many of the students to discuss their experiences following the courses and how they affected their interest in computer science.

Anthony is an active member of Women@SCS and has helped with many activities and events. Through Women@SCS Anthony has worked with computer science outreach with local middle school and high school students. He does an interactive presentation exhibiting a comprehensive image of computer science to alleviate various stereotypes about the field. He has also presented at the AAAS Conference for the advancement of science education to the youth.

Our proposal

Title: Cultural Attitudes Towards Computer Science: How do they Affect Women’s Representation in the Field?

General Project Description
This study is based on the premise that gender differences do not provide a satisfactory explanation for the low participation of women in computer science (CS) and that we need to look at factors other than gender differences. We propose a CREU study that will investigate cultural attitudes towards computer science. We will try to compare the localized culture of a CS department with some broader cultural attitudes.

To investigate the localized culture of a CS department the study will build on previous research which examined the attitudes and perceptions of undergraduate students at Carnegie Mellon University (including a previous CREU research study). Post 1999 studies (2002, 2004 and 2005) revealed that Carnegie Mellon had developed a culture and environment in which women felt they fit and could contribute to the CS culture alongside their male peers.  We will begin our study by finding out if this still holds true. We will try to identify the cultural factors that currently prevail and assess whether or not they have changed since the last studies.

To investigate some broader cultural attitudes we will pay close attention to the perspectives and attitudes of non-US students and faculty. Carnegie Mellon has a sizable number of faculty and students (especially graduate students) from other countries and cultures. At the same time we understand that in some countries and cultures women are well represented in computer science. With this in mind the perspectives and observations of our non-US faculty and students could be very illuminating. We will also tie in what we learn from discussions, interviews and focus groups, with literature searches to see what cultural factors have already been identified as contributing to better representation of women in CS. 

Ultimately, we aim a) to assess attitudes and perceptions towards CS to identify some specific cultural factors that are already contributing to the increased participation of women in computer science, and b) to ask how we can apply this information to improve our strategies for change.

Specific Questions/Hypotheses (to be addressed)
In the USA and many western nations women’s participation in CS is very low and has been declining for many years. Data show that for several years Carnegie Mellon has had better than average percentages of women in the undergraduate CS major. Research studies show that in some countries women are well represented in computer science. We are curious to see which cultural factors are contributing in these seemingly different situations. For example, how computer science is perceived and represented (in a micro-culture or a broader culture) could be important factors. We have observed that interest in mathematics seems to be a very salient factor for students (men and women) entering and succeeding in the CS major at Carnegie Mellon. It also seems that in some of the countries where women are well represented in computer science the mathematical aspects of, and associations with, computer science are salient.

  1. We hypothesize that cultural attitudes and perceptions of CS are playing a major role in women’s participation in the field, be it the localized culture of a department or the broader culture of a nation.
  2. We also hypothesize that there is a relationship between math and CS which could be exploited to re-present how CS is perceived in the USA.

Some specific questions to be addressed:

* How is CS currently perceived among undergraduates in Carnegie Mellon’s CS department?
* Do women still feel like they fit into Carnegie Mellon’s CS department both socially and academically?
* How is CS perceived in those countries in which women are well represented?
* Is math interest a motivator for women going into CS in these other countries?
* Is math interest a motivator for women going into CS at Carnegie Mellon?
* Are there ways in which we can make better use of the cultural factors that are already contributing to the increased participation of women in computer science?

Methods (to be utilized, including background research to be studied):

* General searches: internet and library searches of papers, data and reports related to aims of the study.
* Background reading: becoming familiar with majors papers and reports on cultural perspectives on women and computer science, and on women in computer science in other countries.
* Documentation: findings and data from searches and background reading will be documented.
* Surveys, interviews and focus groups: these tools will be used to assess attitudes and perceptions towards CS among undergraduate and graduate students, and faculty. This will include discussions with students and faculty from other countries. Some of these activities will be tape recorded and transcribed.
* Analysis: data collected from surveys, interviews and focus groups will be analyzed to see if they support, or do not support, our hypotheses.
* Conclusions: we aim to write up our findings and conclusions in a paper that could be submitted to conferences where these issues are of interest.

Suggested Readings and References
* Adams, J. C., Vimala Bauer and Shakuntala Baichoo. An expanding pipeline: Gender in Mauritius, SIGCSE 2003, pp. 59-63. (2003)
* Almstrum, V. What Is the Attraction to Computing? Communications of the ACM, Sept. 2003/vol. 46. No. 9 pp. 51-55
* Barnett, R. and Caryl Rivers. Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children, and Our Jobs, Basic Books, 2004
* Blum, L. Transforming the Culture of Computing at Carnegie Mellon, Computing ResearchNews, vol. 13, No.5, November 2001. p.2.
* Blum, L. Women in Computer Science:The Carnegie Mellon Experience. In Resnick D.P.and Scott , D., eds., The University of the Future: The Future of the University. 2001.
* Blum, L. and Frieze, C. As the Culture of Computing Evolves, Similarity can be the Difference, Frontiers, 26:1 2005
* Borg, Anita. What draws Women to and Keeps Women in Computing at Institute for Women and Technology, May 1999, The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol 869.
* Burger, Carol J., Elizabeth G. Creamer, and Peggy S. Meszaros, eds. Reconfiguring the Firewall: Recruiting Women to Information Technology across Cultures and Continents, AK Peters, Ltd., 2007
* Camp, T. The Incredible Shrinking Pipeline. Communications of the ACM, 40 (10): 103-110, 1997.
* Camp, T. The Incredible Shrinking Pipeline Unlikely to Reverse, ACM-W, January, 2000.
* Camp, T. Women in Computer Science: Reversing the Trend CRA-W August, 2001
* Eidelman, Larisa and Orit Hazzan, “Factors influencing the Shrinking Pipeline in high schools: A sector-based analysis of the Israeli high school System”, Proceedings of SIGCSE 2005 - The 36th Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, pp. 406-410. 2005
* Epstein, Cynthia Fuchs. Deceptive Distinctions: Sex, Gender, and the Social Order, Russell Sage Foundation, Yale University Press, 1988
* Frieze, Carol, and Blum, Lenore. Building an Effective Computer Science Student Organization: The Carnegie Mellon Women@SCS Action Plan, Inroads SIGCSE Bulletin Women in Computing;, 2002, June, p. 74-78
* Gharibyan, Hasmik and Stephan Gunsaulus "Gender Gap in Computer Science Does Not Exist in One Former Soviet Republic: Results of a Study", ITiCSE'06, ACM June 26–28, 2006
* Margolis, J. and Fisher, Allan. 2002 Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing (MIT Press).
* Schofield, Janet Ward. 1995. Computers and Classroom Culture New York: Cambridge University Press.
* Seymour E. and Hewitt N. Talking about Leaving: Why undergraduates leave the Sciences, Boulder:Westview Press, 1997
* Spertus, Ellen. 1991. Why are There so Few Female Computer Scientists?
* Tech-Savvy: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age Tech-Savvy is the culmination of two years of work by the AAUW Educational Foundation Commission on Technology, Gender, and Teacher Education.


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