While Harvey Mudd College’s most recognizable T-shirts tout the school as “the most amazing college you’ve never heard of,” that slogan is becoming increasingly inaccurate: People are hearing about it. Not only has the college has drawn attention for its rigorous academics and high-paying degrees, its president, Maria Klawe, has also been in the spotlight for her efforts to increase diversity in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Most recently, Klawe was named No. 17 on Fortune‘s list of “The World’s 50 Greatest
Leaders” published in March, ahead of influential figures such as Angelina Jolie, Gabrielle Giffords, and Malala Yousafzai.
In an exchange with her daughter, Sasha Pippenger, Klawe admitted that although she was above Angelina Jolie, “I got beat out by the pope and the Dalai Lama.”
“Mom, the pope is 78, and the the Dalai Lama is 86,” Pippenger told her. “You have time to catch up.”
The magazine lauded Klawe for her efforts to bring more women into STEM fields. During her time as HMC president, Klawe has helped bring the representation of female students from approximately one-third of the student body in 2006 to 47 percent today. She has also helped increase the percentage of female
computer science majors at HMC from 10 percent to 40 percent.
she has definitely been an outspoken advocate for the female students at Mudd,”
Miranda Parker HM ’14 said. “It helps that we are nearing a 50-50 ratio, which
is unheard of at tech colleges, and I think a lot of it is just her saying that
women are totally supported and accepted, and her attention in the media
certainly doesn’t hurt this image.”
Some students are concerned that HMC is receiving too much attention, however.
“President Klawe is doing such a
big job promoting the school and advocating for women and getting the word out
about Mudd when we have such low admission rates and a problem of overcrowding
in the past year,” Cleo Stannard HM ’15 said. “By continuing to advocate for the school, she is creating
possibly more problems about admission and student population.”
Klawe’s vision extends
far past bringing more female students and faculty members to HMC. She said she wants to eliminate the stigma of STEM fields and make them more accessible to all types of
“If you look at every major issue
that faces the world, science and engineering will help address it,” Klawe
said. “Now, it won’t be the only thing, but one thing for sure is if you only
have a narrow slice of your population that is working on solutions to a
problem, you are going to get narrow solutions and you’re not going to get the
She said that she hopes to see a wide array of people engaged in research.
“I want the fields of science and engineering to have really
diverse people in them, not just women and men, but also poets and artists and
athletes and LGBTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer] folks because I want the breadth of perspective that we
have in our society to weigh in on important issues facing the world,” she said.
Klawe said that while changes to the computer science program have made it less intimidating for students, the classes have not become less rigorous. She hopes that other people and institutions can follow HMC’s lead in making all areas of STEM and social sciences more accessible.
“Our society tends to propagate the
myth that in order to be good at math, or science, or computer science, or
engineering you have to be born good at it, and it’s just wrong,” Klawe said.
“The truth is, it is like absolutely anything else. If you work hard, you will
do well, and if you don’t work hard and you don’t persist, you won’t do well.”