Last school year, for the first time, women made up the majority—54 percent—of computer science majors graduating from Harvey Mudd College, according to a Jan. 4 Los Angeles Times article.
Men have traditionally had much higher representation in computer science. The gender imbalance begins as early as high school, where more male than female students are likely to take computer science courses—seven percent versus four percent—according to the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP). Of the students who enroll in AP Computer Science, 81 percent are male.
In higher education, only 17.9 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer science are awarded to female students. At HMC, as elsewhere, these numbers have begun to balance out over the last few years.
Still, HMC stands somewhat alone; according to the Times article, which cites the Computing Research Association, more than 84 percent of computer science majors nationwide are male.
In its workforce demographics reports, Google revealed that their percentage of female employees grew from 30 percent to 31 percent between June 2015 and Jan. 2016. This small uptick maintains a percentage consistent with national averages; though women make up half of the U.S. college-educated workforce, only 29 percent work in the science and engineering fields, according to NGCP. Within the computer and mathematical sciences concentration, only a quarter of scientists and engineers are female.
Computer science major Priyanka Agrawal HM ’20 is from the California bay area, home to major technology powers such as Google and Apple. Despite living in a STEM-focused region, she recalled significantly fewer females in her engineering and computer science classes.
“This was somewhat deterring, just because I had joined the field later than many of my male peers,” she said.
An article on computerscience.org notes that “there is a clear disconnect between the computer science industry and the message girls receive about their ability to succeed in tech organizations.”
However, Agrawal said that HMC has empowered her.
“Many of my peers are female, and I have female role models, such as the teachers, to look up to,” she said. “[HMC] has given us so many opportunities already, such as attending the Grace Hopper conference.”
This past October, HMC sent several students and faculty members to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, “the world’s largest technical conference for women in computing,” which results in collaborative proposals, networking, mentoring, and professional development.
Earlier this month, HMC participated in the Women in Data Science Conference, which “aims to inspire future scientists and shine light on data science regardless of gender, ethnic or educational backgrounds.”
Agrawal said that people with different backgrounds bring different perspectives to the field.
“Especially with minorities in a field, their experiences may be so different that their perspective really contributes to the field,” Agrawal said.
Jess Wang HM ’18 agreed that HMC is unique.
“I think the culture for a female CS major at Mudd is really different from other schools,” she wrote in a message to TSL. “My friends [at other schools] make a lot of jokes that they’re literally surrounded by guys all the time … I like the equality of gender here.”