Today, women earn more than half of all undergraduate degrees in U.S. colleges and universities. But according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), female students remain woefully underrepresented in computer science programs, earning only 18 percent of the undergraduate computer science degrees awarded in 2011. And among that year’s incoming freshman, a mere 0.3 per cent of the women—that’s right, just three-tenths of a percent—named computer science as their intended major!
In large measure, the shortage of women who are studying computer science at the post-secondary level is the result of insufficient exposure to computing during their K-12 schooling. It is vital to introduce girls to the wonders of computing before they’ve formed an adolescent aversion to the field, viewing it as “a boy thing.”
That’s why I’m so pleased that Microsoft Research played a major role in this summer’s Girls Gather for Computer Science (G2CS) camp, a four-week summer day camp for middle-school girls. Sponsored by the Pacific University of Oregon, the camp exposes seventh- and eighth-grade girls to computing through hands-on activities, socializing, and field trips to see women working in such high-tech fields as software development, digital media design, and biotechnology.
On Thursday, June 27, Microsoft Research Connections hosted 44 campers and their chaperones. Microsoft researchers gave generously of their time, presenting some seriously cool talks on topics that ranged from phones in space, to programing by using TouchDevelop, to making dynamic images via Cliplets, and even wearing your thoughts on your clothes through the Printing Dress. The Xbox folks also got in on the action, showing the girls how games are tested for usability.
The girls came away enthused and determined to delve deeper into computing and information science, while the experience revitalized our commitment at Microsoft Research to encourage women to pursue computer science careers. After all, how can we afford not to tap into the creativity and intellectual energy of half of our population?
—Lori Ada Kilty, Senior Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections