Searching for Ways to Boost Retention of Women in Computer Science Fields

Linda Sax, a professor in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, is leading a long-term study to determine the best practices for retaining women in computer science degree programs. The study is financed by a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

In the 1980s, women earned about one third of all bachelor’s degrees in computer science. Today the figure is 18 percent despite the fact that women make up about one third of all students in introductory computer science courses.

While the Building, Recruiting, and Inclusion for Diversity (BRAID) initiative is still underway, Professor Sax and her team have begun to draw some conclusions. “The university experience for prospective computer science students, especially when it comes to introductory classes, can make or break a student’s decision,” says Professor Sax.

A recurring theme in the qualitative interviews conducted by Professor Sax’s team is that student experiences in introductory computer classes, especially those taken by non-majors, are instrumental in developing a desire to stay in the field.

“Programming is seen as something that’s overtly masculine and geeky,” Dr. Sax said. “There’s this idea that a programmer is a skinny, nerdy hacker who has poor interpersonal skills and works in his basement. When women leave, it’s not because they’re not capable, but it’s typically because they have this idea that computer science does not contribute to the social good, and they want to help people.”

Professor Sax is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Filed Under: Research/StudySTEM Fields


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