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Efforts increasing to close the gender gap in STEM fields


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Heightened emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects has been a cornerstone of President Barack Obama's education reform. Initiatives such as the White House Science Fair and calls for an additional 100,000 STEM teachers to be recruited during the next decade, highlight the importance of science and technology to the nation's economy and education sectors. However, despite these and other efforts to make scientific careers more attractive to students, women remain significantly underrepresented in technical fields, such as computer science.

Leading by example
According to CNN Money, a recent survey of professionals in the technology sector revealed that many people believe the most significant barrier in attracting female students to computer science careers is a lack of suitable role models. For every Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, there are countless men in similar positions. Pervasive gender stereotyping was also cited as a serious problem in the technology industry, as was the appeal of so-called "geek culture."

In recent years however, several organizations, both for profit and nonprofit, have emerged to make careers in technology more attractive to women. Girls Who Code and the Hackbright Academy are part of a much wider movement that aims to empower women to enter this traditionally male-dominated field and carve out successful careers in computer science.

Making science accessible
Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, hopes to increase the number of female students taking computer science classes and embarking on careers in the technology sector. In an interview with Wendy Kaufman of NPR,  Klawe recalled her own struggles to ingratiate herself into the traditionally male-dominated field of mathematics.

"Professors would say to me all the time, 'Why do you want to be a mathematician, Maria? There are no good women mathematicians.' And it just really bugged me," Klawe told the news source. "We're not attracting and retaining enough talent, and especially in areas like computer science. And I think what I recognized was this (Harvey Mudd College) might be a place that could actually make a difference with that."

To achieve this goal, officials at the liberal arts college instituted a series of classes to make computer science appealing to all students, particularly women who have little experience with the subject. In addition, the school also hosts a range of conferences led by female engineers, programmers and scientists. As a result, approximately 40 percent of computer science majors at Harvey Mudd are women, significantly more than any other coed college.

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