Raising diversity awareness inspires career of computer science alumna

Jessica Zeitz Self had become accustomed to being in the minority.  As she made her way through the doctoral program in the Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, Self, who earned her Ph.D. in 2016, was always mindful of the fact that she was one of only a handful of women.  No wonder.  Women who earned undergraduate degrees in computer science in 2015 were just 18 percent of the academic population, according to the National Science Foundation.  When Self was hired as an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Mary Washington this year, she became part of a professional cadre of women that represents only 25 percent of the total STEM workforce in the industry.

Self’s collegiate experience at Virginia Tech allowed her to become a champion for diversity in her field, however. Being one of just three women out of a cohort of 40 in 2011, she made it a priority to weave diversity into her academic training.  “One of the main issues with the gender gap in computer science is that girls simply aren’t exposed to what computer science is,” said Self.

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