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: Motivation,
Persistence and Success in Computer Science: What Can Computer Science
Seniors Tell Us?
Our CREU team 2004-2005: Belinda
Chang (left) and Catherine Fan (center)
Major: Computer Science, Senior
|I’m currently pursuing a double major in Psychology. Next
semester, I’ll be taking Social Psychology.
The topic of women in Computer Science has always been one that is
closeto my heart. Currently, I am invovled with SWE(Society of Women
Engineers) and Women@SCS(a group at CMU supporting the women in the
computer science school). Through these groups, I have served to promote
women in Computer Science to the underclassmen women and also to local
middle school and high school girls. I helped to organized outreach
events to encourage local girls to pursue engineering and science
careers. In addition, I have also served as a mentor in Women@SCS's
Big/Little Sister program. The Big/Little Sister program serves to
strengthen bonds between the women in the Computer Science school,
serving as a means for first year girls to have someone in the department
that they can look to for guidence. Actually Catherine Fan, who is
also a contributor to this project, was one of my little sisters.
The research that this project produces will continue to allow me
to serve as a role model and mentor.
Computer Science, Junior
I will be working alongside the director of Women at Computer
Science (Women@SCS) organization, which aims to increase female
participation in the field of computer science. The other member
in our team is Belinda Chang, my "big sister" mentor with
whom I was paired during my freshman year in the "Big Sister-Little
Sister" mentor program, organized by Women@SCS. Together, we
are eager to understand the reason why so many of our peers, both
male and female, have left the field, and what keeps the rest of
us determined to achieve a degree in Computer Science. It is a rare
opportunity for us to be able to work together on a project which
directly involves our lives as well as our classmates.
Title: Motivation, Persistence and Success in Computer
Science: What Can Computer Science Seniors Tell Us?
General Project Description
We propose a CREU study that will be part of an ongoing line of investigation
into the culture of computing among computer science undergraduate students
at Carnegie Mellon. This line of investigation began with the intensive
studies of Jane Margolis and Alan Fisher (1994-99) culminating in the
book “Unlocking the Clubhouse”. Since then, Carol Frieze and
Lenore Blum have conducted studies of computer science seniors from the
2002 class and are about to begin a study of the 2004 class. In the 2002
study they found many similarities to the early studies. In addition,
they discovered some surprising changes e.g. a more balanced environment
had started to yield similar spectrums of interests and motivation in
both genders. It was these changes that prompted further investigation
and the current study.
In Spring of 2004 Frieze conducted 50 interviews with seniors, men and
women, from the 2004 class. Our latest study will involve examining these
transcripts, along with 33 transcripts from the 2002 study, and the baseline
research from Margolis and Fisher. Thus, there now exists a wealth of
material for assessing changes, similarities and differences, among undergraduates
in computer science at Carnegie Mellon.
The CREU study will be one part of the larger study and the CREU team
will focus on specific topics of investigation based on a selection of
interview questions (approximately 5 out of over 50). The CREU team will
be the first to examine this new material. They will be looking at what
motivates students to enter a computer science major, what factors contribute
to staying in the major and ultimately to graduating with a degree in
computer science. They will be looking specifically at gender similarities
and differences and their findings will be placed in the context of other
research studies on these issues.
Specific Questions/Hypotheses (to be addressed)
a) General background data search: what are current reports showing with
regards to numbers of women in computer science programs at universities?
(looking at institutions comparable to Carnegie Mellon)
b) Have the numbers increased/decreased over the past 10 years?
c) What are the numbers at Carnegie Mellon? Have the numbers increased/decreased
over the past 10 years?
d) What do some of the major papers on women and computer science suggest
as the primary motivations for women (and men) coming into a computer
e) How does age affect motivational factors and what might be the optimal
target interest in computer science?
f) What do some of the major papers suggest as determining factors for
women/men to persist in the computer science major?
g) How does the motivation, persistence and success of students who enter
computer science majors with little or no computing background compare
to those who enter with strong backgrounds?
Findings from above will be compared to findings from specific questions
(that we believe relate to issues of motivation, persistence and success)
from interviews with Carnegie Mellon students with a view to answering
the following (however, as the research unfolds we expect new hypotheses
- What have been the primary motivations for women, and for men, coming
into the computer science major at Carnegie Mellon and what factors
have kept them going?
- Are there marked gender similarities? differences?
- How do these findings compare with findings from major reports and
- Are gender similarities more to the foreground at Carnegie Mellon
than generally assumed according to current research? Can we hypothesize
that a gender “balanced” environment is contributing to
Methods (to be utilized, including background research
to be studied)
Background reading: becoming familiar with majors papers and reports on
women and computer science (see References and Suggested Reading list).
Researching Internet and library: becoming comfortable with summarizing
notes and conclusions of papers, reports and latest findings.
Some transcribing of audio tapes, analysis of interview transcripts, thorough
reading of transcripts and charting of quantitative data, and analysis
of qualitative data. We may find we need to supplement our transcripts
with surveys of other computer science undergraduates. Comparing the responses
of men and women students and looking for similarities and differences.
Comparing Carnegie Mellon findings with general findings.
Suggested Readings and References
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
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. http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/~women/
Blum, L. and Frieze, C. As the Culture of Computing
Evolves, Similarity can be the Difference
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.http://www.iwt.org/resultsreports/nyaspaper.html
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
Fisher, A., Margolis, J., Miller, F. Anatomy of Interest:
Women in Undergraduate Computer Science. 28 (1 & 2): 104-126,
Fisher, A., Margolis, J., Miller, F. Caring About
Connections: Gender and Computing. Technology and Society, 13-20,
Frieze, Carol, and Blum, Lenore. Building an Effective
Computer Science Student Organization: The Carnegie Mellon Women@SCS Action
Inroads SIGCSE Bulletin Women in Computing; vol.34.no.2, 2002, June, p.
Margolis, J. and Fisher, Allan. 2002 Unlocking the Clubhouse:
Women in Computing (MIT Press).
Margolis,J., Fisher, A. and Miller, F. Geek Mythology
Margolis,J., Fisher, A. and Miller, F. Computing for
a Purpose: Gender and Attachment to Computer Science
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
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. http://www.aauw.org/2000/techsavvy.html