Leveling the CS1 Playing Field

Gloria Childress Townsend

Computer Science I (CS1) is the first class that incoming students take at DePauw University, creating a key opportunity to recruit female computer science (CS) majors.  Our NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund project, "Leveling the CS1 Playing Field," uses a unique early intervention approach to increase the number of female CS majors.

First, the project leader sends each first-year woman student a mailing that contains a letter of welcome and introduction, profiles the "success stories" of young women in CS, and provides information about computing research opportunities and careers. Our data analysis found that CS1 classes where women students had received this mailing enrolled 10% more women than those classes whose female members did not receive the mailing.

The Seed Fund award allowed us to take the project to a new level.  We created a DVD the first year of the project that includes short scenes from an actual CS1 classroom, a brief interview with a computer science major, and text overlays with information such as starting salaries for computer science majors.

During the second year of the project, we mailed the DVD and a letter to one-third of the first-year women and sent email with a link to the DVD to another one-third.  We also began surveying these two target groups and a control group, along with the students in the CS1 classes. 

Through the generous funding from Microsoft Research, we will continue the project for several more years, until we have sufficient data collected for appropriate analysis. Thanks to our friends at Microsoft Research and NCWIT!

 

Gloria Childress Townsend is a professor of computer science at DePauw University.