CS@VT Diversity News


Dr. Barbara G. Ryder
J. Byron Maupin Professor of Engineering
Head – Department of Computer Science – Virginia Tech
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I think it’s time for me to report about the push we have been making with regard to increasing the gender diversity of CS@VT. We have focused on increasing the percentage of women students as our initial goal.  To accomplish this we have joined with the National Council on Women in IT (NCWIT), which runs many programs to recruit and retain women in computing. There are three NCWIT activities in which we participate: Pacesetters, VA/DC Aspirations in Computing Awards and the NSF Engage project.

Pacesetters is envisioned as an academia/industry partnership to increase the number of net new women in computing studies and jobs. Our activities in Pacesetters have included encouraging students to take CS minors, taking CS@VT students to high schools to encourage girls to think about majoring in computing, presenting programs in COE summer programs/workshops to attract students to computing as a career, etc. After participating in Pacesetters since 2009, we have good news to report. Our CS major cohort is ~14% female, more than double the percentage in 2009! Moreover, as of 11/6/2014 we had 183 CS minors of whom 48 (26%) were female, a third more females than spring 2014! Our Association for Women in Computing (AWC) student organization continues to annually host local middle school girls for a fun day of computing activities at CS@VT. In spring 2014, the AWC attracted ~75 students from local middle schools.  At the AWC core are 30 active members, with a few hundred on the listserv who participate occasionally in events.

We (I and Libby Bradford) are chairing the VA/DC Aspirations in Computing Awards for the 2nd time since it was started in 2012. Our goal is to work with NCWIT to identify and recognize female students who are strongly interested in computing and to support that interest through recognition of their achievements, leadership and drive. Students who win these national or regional awards and study CS at Virginia Tech are awarded a modest scholarship annually as long as they remain in good academic standing. VT is the ONLY college/university in Virginia with an Aspirations scholarship program. We have several Aspirations winners at VT, with 3 currently in the CS major and 2 more intending to transfer into CS during 2015. There also are 3 entering freshmen Aspirations winners this year – 1 in business and 2 in engineering, hopefully planning on declaring the CS major. Note that our first Aspirations award winner is graduating in 2015 and already has a position at Microsoft in Redmond. We are thrilled to have these talented female CS students in our department.

The NSF Engage project is an effort to recruit and retain women into the CS or CE major in the College of Engineering, involving both departments and the CEED Center in the College. We hold many joint activities with female students from the CS and ECE departments, encouraging them to network and work together, building a critical mass for our female cohort.

The department also sponsors student attendees to both the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing and to the Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing. We are academic Gold Sponsors of both these events. Our sponsorship gives us access to underrepresented minorities and women attendees who are looking for faculty positions — an asset to our faculty search committees and in diversifying our faculty, another departmental goal.   This year, we supported 12 female students to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration and 16 to attend a regional Grace Hopper Celebration in Richmond, VA.  We also supported 6 students (4 females) to attend the Tapia Celebration.

Another interesting statistic concerns CS@VT faculty involvement in diversity efforts throughout the year. The department Diversity Committee prepared a list of varied commitment activities for faculty to choose from; participation is be reported as service to the department, part of expected annual service. One activity might be working in the summer with an undergraduate student from an underrepresented group in computing; another might be attending a lunch with incoming COE freshman to talk to them about computer science or to do a 1 hour hands-on CS project to a COE CEED high school girls’ camp in the summer. I have been keeping track of the percentage of faculty participating in such diversity activities, and I am happy to report that ~75% of the faculty participated in such activities last year.

You may also be interested that we have exceeded the annual CRA Taulbee report means for the percentage of female Ph.D. graduates for 3 of the past 4 academic years!

Clearly, we have more work to do on diversity, but as a faculty, we have taken significant steps and should take pride in this accomplishment of building a more diverse CS student body.

Barbara Ryder, Dec 5, 2014

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