HMC Spearheads Diversity Initiative

Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, and Telle Whitney, president and CEO of the Anita Borg Institute, are spearheading the Building Recruiting And Inclusion for Diversity (BRAID) initiative to increase the representation of women and minorities in science fields such as computer science (CS). 

Introduced by Hillary Clinton this year, the BRAID initiative has already received funding from organizations like Collaborative for Harnessing Ambition and Resources for Girls’ Education. Klawe herself worked with several major companies to ensure the initiative’s success. 

“I reached out to friends at Microsoft, Google and Facebook,” Klawe said. “The support was overwhelming.”

HMC is one of 15 academic institutions participating in the initiative, attempting to make beginning CS courses less intimidating by reaching out to high school programs and minorities as well as increasing interdisciplinary and joint programs in CS. 

“I believe it’s important for people of all sorts, including those who are currently minorities in the field, to get involved in CS,” CS major Sam Echevarria HM ’17 said. “It’s a huge field with all sorts of really amazing innovation and possibilities, and we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t try to include as many different viewpoints and ideas as possible.”

She added, “I personally don’t know if I would have been a CS major had I attended another school, but I do know the welcoming and nurturing nature of the department and all of its members made me realize not only that I enjoyed CS, but that I would be never be held back at Mudd because of my gender.” 

Of HMC’s undergraduate computer science majors, 40 percent are women, and 56 percent of last year’s graduating engineering majors were women—a statistic that puts HMC high above the national average. 

“I am very happy about BRAID and our computer science program, but I am hoping we will have other initiatives that really show what we are doing in every department,” Klawe said. “Every department does great work, they’re really innovative and all have really incredibly supportive, inclusive learning environments.”

Echevarria said that HMC’s CS department emphasizes that “anyone can be a CS major.” 

“The welcoming attitude and amazing support of the faculty really sealed the deal for me,” she said. “The department does a fantastic job at giving everyone a chance to experience CS and see if it’s a good fit for them, without making anyone feel excluded.”

In addition to growing support for women in CS at HMC, the 5Cs offer a support system for women and minorities in computer science through organizations such as an active chapter of the Association for Computer Machinery’s Women in Computing. Klawe expressed hope that expanding knowledge of CS will lead to a better future. 

“In a world with complex problems like sustainability and green technologies or health care and education, it’s just the case that computer science and information technology is going to be the solution to all of the problems facing in the world,” she said. “So you want better solutions from more diverse teams.”

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