Initiative to promote women, minorities in computer science

Robert Sloan

Women make up about 13 percent of computer science majors nationally, said Robert Sloan, professor and head of computer science. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

UIC is one of 15 universities joining an initiative to increase the percentage of women and minorities pursuing undergraduate degrees in computer science.

Each universities will receive $30,000 a year for three years from the Building Recruiting And Inclusion for Diversity (BRAID) initiative, announced Sept. 24 by former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative.

Part of the Girl’s CHARGE programs for girls and women, the BRAID initiative is underwritten by a three-year funding commitment from Google, Facebook, Intel and Microsoft.

“In 1986, about a third of all computer science majors (nationally) were women,” says Robert Sloan, professor and head of computer science. Today, women make up only about 13 percent, he said.

“This is especially disturbing because this is where the jobs are,” Sloan said.

UIC will use grant money to recruit and retain more women in computer science and send female undergraduates to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, a prestigious annual conference.

“It has been shown that women who attend the conference are more likely to stay in computer science,” Sloan said. The BRAID funding will allow UIC to send between 25 and 30 women to the conference this year.

Tanya Berger-Wolf, associate professor of computer science, has attended the conference as a grad student, post doc, junior faculty and established researcher. She said she looks forward to bringing students from UIC to be inspired.

“I still feel invigorated and inspired every time I go,” she said.

Other efforts to recruit women will include revamping introductory courses; creating double majors to draw women interested in other STEM fields into computing; supporting the long-standing Women in Computer Science student group; and continuing to reach out to local high school science teachers.

“We are also asking our women students to visit their high school alma maters and ask for the opportunity to talk to students about their own experience with UIC’s program,” said Sloan. 

“UIC really excels at retaining undergraduate women in our computer science program, but we need to do much more to recruit them,” he said.

The BRAID initiative will be administered by the Anita Borg Institute, a nonprofit focused on advancing women in computing.


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