Archive for March 25, 2011

Impact of CS on female non-majors: Beyond a pipeline model

I had a reporter talk to me recently about women in computing.  I rattled off statistics to her, and told her about curricular and “Georgia Computes!” efforts.  She was all “yeah, yeah, yeah” then asked me if I knew about real women in computing, especially women in my classes.  I told her that I mostly teach non-majors, but was learning interesting stories about the impact of our introductory course on their lives.  She loved those, and encouraged me to share them, so let me tell you two here.

Anne was a senior when we taught the Introduction to Media Computation course the first time.  (Lots of seniors had been putting off their computing requirement until their last year, hoping that something better would come along.)  She sat in the second row, right in the middle, and asked me questions every lecture.  I’d use her frowns as an indication that I wasn’t making sense yet in lecture.  After she finished the class, she came to see me. “I’ve always wanted to TA a course, but never had the time before.  Now, I’m about to graduate.  Could I TA this course during my last semester here?”  Since she was a good student, and I really needed to get more female TA’s (my pool of undergraduate TA’s were mostly male in the beginning), I gladly agreed.

During that semester, Anne did a great job as a TA, and as a Senior, she got some terrific job interviews — better than she expected.  In fact, she was getting interviews that her peer Accounting majors weren’t getting, even when they had better grades.  She finally asked a recruiter, “You know, my grades aren’t that good.  Why did you interview me?”  The recruiter told her, “You’re an Accounting major who can TA a CS course?  You must be amazing!”  She was hired by a firm that focused on IT, and when I last saw her at an alumni event a couple years ago, she was with an IT firm in their accounting department.  She is making a career of the subject that she simply wanted to try as a TA.

Rachel was an Architecture major who took the introductory course because it was required, did really well, and then became a TA for the course.  With 300+ students every semester, and a desired 25:1 student:TA ratio, we need a lot of TAs.  She helped teach Python and HTML (e.g., we write Python programs that generate HTML).

I know Rachel because she and her family go to our church.  She took a job with a construction firm right out of College, and did well for several years.  Then the Recession hit.  She was out of job for awhile, and even talked to Barb about going back to school to become (really!) a high school computer science teacher.  Then, she got a job in Web Design.  That was two years ago.  She came to one of the performances of our play in February, and I got to catch up with her.  She’s still doing Web Design and loving it.  She was just teaching herself Ajax, and enjoyed the opportunity to learn and use new things.

What’s most interesting about both of these jobs is that these women probably both count as women entering the IT field — but neither started there.  Neither of these is a story about a “pipeline” from high school to college to job in IT.  Neither became CS majors.  Rather, both of these are about opportunities that arose from having a computing class, that each discovered she enjoyed and was good at.  They followed the majors that they wanted, but ended up in IT. That was a door that got opened for them because they had to take a required freshman course on media computation with Python.

March 25, 2011 at 8:03 am 3 comments


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