Interdisciplinary Degree Program in Computing Attracts 57% Female Students

Digital woman

Despite outreach programs, targeted recruitment efforts and scholarships, women continue to account for a disproportionally small fraction of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in computing. That suggests to me that if we’re ever going to change our demographics, we need to look carefully at the product we’re offering. 

Today’s generation of college-bound students grew up immersed in the technology of computing. Instead of being intrigued by how computers work, a 2009 WGBH/ACM report found that today’s students – especially female students – are much more interested in “social interaction” and “making a difference in people's lives”, but also found that those goals are not considered to be compatible with careers in computing.

In response, Santa Clara University has established a new interdisciplinary degree program that emphasizes the relationship between computing and society. The new bachelor’s degree in Web Design and Engineering combines requirements in computing, graphic design, sociology, communication and English. Its goals are to produce graduates (1) who can analyze, design and improve the computa­tion­al infrastructure of the Web, (2) who can develop interactive multimedia content that is appealing, engaging, effective and easy to use, and (3) whose work will be guided by an understanding of and sensitivity to, the social, political, ethical and legal relationships between their work and those that it affects.

The new program is small, but the gender balance has been amazing. In its first year (2009-10), there were eight majors, of which six were women. Twenty-one students have applied for 2010-11; twelve of these (57%) are women. To put these numbers in context, only 17% of the 154 students who applied to our traditional BSCSE program are women. More information about the program is available at http://www.scu.edu/engineering/cse.