Harvey Mudd College (HMC) President Maria Klawe is a big deal among college presidents. She is HMC’s first female president, has received much recognition over the years for her research into computer science, was welcomed onto the Board of Directors at Microsoft in 2009, and is known among friends for her love of watercolor painting.
Now Klawe is being commended for something else entirely: she has made diversity among HMC’s students a top priority, with noticeable progress.
For the first time ever, HMC’s first-year class consists of more women than men, a rare occurrence among engineering schools. The school is also becoming more racially diverse. Klawe said the school has come a long way from when she first came to Claremont.
“At the time about a third of our students and faculty were female,” she said. “Only one of our faculty was African-American (in fact half white, half African-American). We had very few African-American students.”
According to Klawe, the push for increased diversity at HMC has come from all segments of the population—including not only students, but also faculty, staff, and trustees.
“It is our community that is working on diversifying the HMC community,” Klawe said. “I’m a big supporter of the efforts but I play a relatively small role in making it happen.”
Steve Matsumoto HM ’12, a former member of the school’s Student Diversity Committee, applauded the school for making diversity a priority.
“I think it’s really great that we do have an environment where women and other minorities in the STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math] fields can feel really comfortable being who they are—students who have a passion for math, science, and engineering,” he said.
But Matsumoto added that the school still has a long way to go.
“I didn’t notice a huge difference in the diversity of our school,” he said. “Compared to a decade ago: absolutely. But compared to 2008? I don’t know if I can say that for sure.”
Klawe, who became the President of HMC in 2006, said she learned to appreciate the value of diversity in academics at a young age.
“I grew up at a time when everyone said that girls couldn’t be good at math,” she said. “I loved math and was very good at it and it bugged me that people kept on saying things like, ‘Why do you want to be a mathematician?'”
“By the time I was 17 I had decided that I wanted to make the culture of science and engineering one that welcomes and supports all talented individuals regardless of gender, race, and other interests,” Klawe added.
According to Klawe, the school has also developed a new core curriculum in an attempt to promote diversification across fields of study. The new core allows students to take more electives in an effort to meet the college’s goal of “nurturing and supporting the whole person.”
The school has also added a summer institute to provide support for less-prepared students during their first three semesters as well as a set of one-unit companion courses to help students with the core math and chemistry courses.
For Klawe, one of the biggest advantages of the new curriculum is the reworked computer science course that she said aims to make the field more appealing to students by focusing on computational approaches to problem solving.
“It has become one of the most loved first-semester core courses by both males and females,” she said.
Matusmoto said he hopes the diversity of HMC’s student body will continue to increase.
“When you have that classmate who always looks at the material in a way that you never even imagined was possible, it really opens your eyes to your own views of the subject,” he said.