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UW CSE and the National Center for Women and Information Technology

UW CSE is one of 24 academic programs and corporations that are members of the “NCWIT Pacesetters” program of the National Center for Women and Information Technology – committed to fundamental enhancements in their recruitment and retention of women.

At the Pacesetters Roundtable in Boulder CO on October 23 and 24, here’s what we said:

Here’s our philosophy at the University of Washington:

  • Yes, including more women in the field is important as a matter of equity.
  • And yes, it’s important from a workforce point of view.
  • But it’s also important because of quality. We’re designing systems for the entire population to use, so the entire population needs to be involved in the design of those systems.

We’ve always worked hard to create a welcoming and supportive environment, and to get the word out. Our numbers are better than most. But we’re still not where we need to be.

Under the Pacesetters program, we committed to further gains. At the University of Washington, students enter as pre-majors and choose majors after fulfilling pre-requisites, so we’ve focused on freshmen. Here are some of the things we’ve added:

  • We target freshman honors students with a new course called “Brave New World: Scientific, Economic and Social Impact of Computer Science” which has attracted significant numbers of female students.
  • We created honors sections in our introductory programming courses which similarly have attracted significant numbers of female students.
  • We focus on consistent, encouraging communication to students in Introductory Programming. This includes:
    • Emails sent to high achievers in the course suggesting they consider applying to the major;
    • Social events where we invite women to network with faculty, students and staff;
    • And a special women’s seminar linked to our introductory courses in which women are introduced to the breadth and depth of the field by visiting local companies, listening to student panels, seeing research presentations, and talking about their experiences in the courses.

We’ve found that more than half of our new Computer Science and Computer Engineering majors had no intention of choosing these majors when they enrolled in the introductory course. So making this course welcoming and exciting is incredibly important.

We added these new initiatives to existing activities such as:

  • Google-sponsored summer workshops for high school math and science teachers.
  • “Inspirational teacher” recognition for high school teachers who send us great students.
  • And videos dispelling myths and stereotypes about the field.

We have not yet fully met our Pacesetters goals, but we’re committed to these goals, and we’re well on the way.

See an NCWIT press release on Pacesetters here.  Learn about Computer Science and Computer Engineering as majors here.