For women computer scientists, Mudd sticks

Paltry numbers of computer scientists are women. Christine Alvarado helped QUADRUPLE those numbers at Harvey Mudd College, whose reputation for excellence rivals MIT: this video offers insight into how she did it

Although the dazzling academic results at Harvey Mudd are the stuff of legend, until Christine arrived, computer science majors were still a stubbornly persistent, almost exclusively (nearly 90%) male preserve.

Here’s an extract from the introduction to her Google talk:

Historically, Harvey Mudd College (HMC) had about as much success attracting women to the study of computer science as the average institution–in other words, very little.

Until 2005, women at HMC chose CS less than any other field of study.

In 2006 HMC began three practices in order to increase the number of women studying and majoring in CS: a redesigned CS1, trips for first-year students to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computer Science, and CS research experiences for rising sophomore women.

These practices have now been in place for almost 5 years.

In this talk I will describe these practices and present a thorough evaluation of the quantitative and qualitative differences that have accompanied them.

In sum, these efforts have rebalanced our department by significantly increasing women’s participation in our computer science program.

Women now represent approximately 42% of HMC’s CS majors, and this number reflects the percentage of women at the college as a whole.

I will end with an informal discussion of the implementation details of these practices (including what worked and what didn’t), and I will present recommendations based on our experience for applying these ideas in other contexts.

Here’s a video of Christine and her boss (and number one fan?) President of Harvey Mudd, Marie Klawe

Here’s a brief bio:

Christine Alvarado is an assistant professor of computer science at Harvey Mudd College.

Her primary research interests lie in the intersection of artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction.

She focuses on building robust, free-sketch recognition-based interfaces and exploring how to resolve the user interface challenges associated with these interfaces.

In addition to her sketch understanding research, Professor Alvarado is actively involved in outreach efforts to increase the number of women in computer science, and in designing novel introductory computer science curriculum that appeals to a broad scientific audience.

Professor Alvarado received her undergraduate degree in computer science from Dartmouth in 1998.

She received her S.M. and Ph.D. in computer science from MIT in 2000 and 2004, respectively.

Some statistical facts on Harvey Mudd College from Wikipedia:

A third of the student body are National Merit Scholars, and at one point, about 40 percent of graduates were going on to earn a Ph.D. — the highest rate of any college or university in the [U.S.] nation.

Harvey Mudd today still maintains the highest rate of science and engineering Ph.D. production among all undergraduate colleges and second highest (Caltech ranks first and MIT third) compared to all universities and colleges, according to a 2008 report by the National Science Foundation.