How Harvey Mudd Brings Women into CS

by adam on April 4, 2012

Back in October, I posted on “Maria Klawe on increasing Women in Technology.” Now the New York Times has a story, “Giving Women The Access Code:”

“Most of the female students were unwilling to go on in computer science because of the stereotypes they had grown up with,” said Zachary Dodds, a computer scientist at Mudd. “We realized we were helping perpetuate that by teaching such a standard course.”

To reduce the intimidation factor, the course was divided into two sections — “gold,” for those with no prior experience, and “black” for everyone else. Java, a notoriously opaque programming language, was replaced by a more accessible language called Python. And the focus of the course changed to computational approaches to solving problems across science.

“We realized that we needed to show students computer science is not all about programming,” said Ran Libeskind-Hadas, chairman of the department. “It has intellectual depth and connections to other disciplines.”

Well, sometimes computer science has depth and connections to reality. Other times we get wrapped around some little technical nit, and lose sight of the larger picture. Or sometimes, we just talk about crypto and key lengths.

If we want more diversity in computer security, we have to look around, see what’s working and take lessons from it. Otherwise, we’re going to stay on the hamster wheels. There’s excellent evidence that more diversity helps you solve certain classes of problems better. (See, for example, “Scott Page’s The Difference.)

One comment

As someone with a computer science degree, I think it may be time to do away with the idea of computer science degrees. If you graduate these days with any other degree, and you don’t know how to program a computer to help you do whatever you do in that degree, your educational institution has failed you.

by Lester Ward on April 6, 2012 at 3:33 am. Reply #

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