Closing the Gender Gap in Computer Science Education

Mar 9, 2016

International Women’s Day was March 8 and two CSE faculty members were invited to weigh in with their perspectives on how to close the gender gap in technology. The "inspiring" Associate Teaching Professor Christine Alvarado (below at right) and Assistant Teaching Professor Mia Minnes were featured in a week-long social media campaign, #WomenInTech, by Coursera along with other female faculty who teach online courses offered on the Coursera platform.

"Over the early years of my career as a professor, the goal of increasing women’s participation in computer science moved from a hobby to a central goal of my teaching and research," writes Alvarado. "I was distressed by women’s absence in a field that I found so fascinating. I wanted to help young women, and indeed all students, see that there was no fundamental reason why they shouldn’t be studying or pursuing a career in technology."

Alvarado adds that, "We need to address the cultural issues and biases that are at the root of gender diversity, to make women feel that they are accepted and belong in computer science and the tech industry. The more people who acknowledge these biases publicly, from educational institutions to technology companies, the more we all will be able to confront this problem and work together to change it."

Minnes says she first realized the problem as an undergraduate. "I remember the jolt of realizing, almost every time I stepped into a lab or a lecture hall, that I was the only woman in the room or one of very few women," she writes.

"I think it’s especially important to be able to see others who you can identify with and who have gone before you and succeeded... (and) I see this in my student dynamics each semester," explains Minnes. "All of our core Computer Science courses typically have enrollments of only 20-30% women. However, the demographics in my office hours are much more balanced. Many of the women who attend my office hours have told me this is the first time they’ve ever felt comfortable approaching one of their professors, not to mention participating in office hours... I think that’s very telling of just how crucial it is to have networks of women – both in the workplace and in education."

Read the full reflections of professors Alvarado and Minnes on the Coursera website.