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Enlighten Me: Recruiting women into computer science field

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Delaware Public Media
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In 2013, 14 percent of students who graduated with a degree in computer science were women, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

While the presence of women in science and engineering has grown in recent years, the number of women in computer science have remained low.

In fact, the number of women in computer science was much higher in the 70s. But in the 80s, along with the introduction of video games that appealed more to boys, the number of women studying computer science plummeted.

Now, the field of computer science is dominated by white and Asian men. Lori Pollock, a University of Delaware computer science professor, says this has consequences from the workplace to how our everyday products are designed.

"Some of what’s happening involves, obviously, a lack of diversity [in the workplace], and [scientists] are developing the product with one perspective," said Pollock. "You don’t have the perspective of the women and minorities who are going to use that product."

Getting that perspective requires getting women to stick with computer science.

Studies have shown that the number of boys and girls interested in computer science is equal in the United States early in childhood. But around middle school, the numbers start to change.

Pollock says part of the issue is that students often have a very limited view of the possibilities that stem from having a computer science degree.

"They equate computer science with programming and they don’t think about what they’re creating with that program and that computer science background.," said Pollock.

Pollock is leading efforts to encourage more female students to look into computer science careers. One initiative involves an upcoming e-textiles program. The National Center for Women and Information Technology recently funded an e-textiles workshop that UD will offer students this upcoming school year. The program will show students how a knowledge of computer science can be applied to areas like fashion and teaching students the role circuits play in creating special types of clothing, such as firefighter uniforms.

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