Monday, June 30, 2008

Shafi Goldwasser accepts the 2008 ACM-W Athena Lecturer Award

Shafi Goldwasser accepted the ACM-W Athena Lecturer Award at the ACM Awards Banquet at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco on June 21, 2008.

Pictured (L-R): Stu Feldman, ACM President;
Elaine Weyuker, ACM-W co-Chair;
Alan Eustace, Google Vice President;
Shafi Goldwasser; John White, ACM CEO.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Congratulations Reyyan Ayfer, winner of the Anita Borg Change Agent Award

ACM-W Turkish Ambassador Reyyan Ayfer has been named a winner of the Anita Borg Change Agent Award for her many accomplishments. Reyyan will receive her award at the 2008 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. Learn more about Reyyan and her work as ambassador in her recent blog entry. Congratulations, Reyyan!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

United States Women in Computing News
Ambassador: Mary Anne Egan

This month is a report on the status of women in computing in the United States. According to the most recent Taulbee survey for the academic year 2006-2007 [1], 19.1% of new Ph.D.s and 22.6% of the Master’s degrees were awarded to women. These numbers represent a slight increase in the ratio of women among new Ph.D.s and about the same ratio of Master’s degrees as the previous year. The statistics for Bachelor’s degree production is down from 14.2% for 2005-2006 to 11.8% for 2006-2007. The fraction of new female students is reported now to be less than 10% in many Bachelor’s programs. This is a serious problem in achieving our field’s diversity goals.

The decrease in the number of female computer science majors is concerning not just because women should share in the formation of the field’s future and participate in its rewards, but also because the absence of women in the field is a foreboding omen for the technological future of our country. “Women are the canaries in the coal mine,” Lenore Blum stated at a talk at Harvard University [2], in that factors driving women away will eventually drive men away as well. The Taulbee survey summarized the status of undergraduate education in the U.S. with the following statement: “Undergraduate degree production continues its downward trend, although this trend should cease within the next two years, at least in U.S. CS departments. However, signs of recovery from the sharp decline that has lasted several years have yet to materialize.” [1]

The lack of students entering computer science strengthening our country’s technological talent pool combined with the economic downturn presents the United States with limited choices. No longer will it be an option to locate talent in other countries, the U.S. dollar won’t support it. No longer will the United States be on the leading edge of technology, we will struggle merely to keep up.

Unless there are major changes on the educational front, our nation’s children are going to continue to form their impressions of a computer scientist or a computer career based on what they see in the media. If they can’t experience the benefits of computers on society and the necessity of advances in computing first hand, they are left with the media images. Incorporating computing into all aspects of education needs to start now. Why can’t one of the books they read for literature be an exciting one about computers? Why can’t the history of computing be part of their history lessons about World War II? Why can’t the ideas of simulation and modeling be part of their earth science class, especially when there are so many natural disasters ravaging our world? I truly believe that if students knew that a computer science career could take you in one of these directions, we would have students flocking to the major. At this point, we have students thinking that computer majors develop new games, operating systems, hardware or maybe stretch into cool “new” applications like Facebook and cell phone applications. These are interesting, but many students want to make a difference in this world. Notice that there has been an increase in physics and engineering majors now that the price of fuel has risen so high. They see that there is a need for them; we just need to show them that there is a need for computer scientists too. Show them how technology can be used to impact others – lessen paper output, reduce transportation costs by facilitating communication or scheduling, decrease world illiteracy, the list could go on.

How can we accomplish the computer re-education of our children? We need to start with the support of our government. Yes, the government supports many outstanding and beneficial programs, but there must be a more conscious effort to combine these into a focused program. Right now I feel we have a flashlight approach for solving this problem, but we need a laser beam – focused and strong! What should this program focus on? The first would be to determine a basic technological skill set for all students across America. This would go beyond typing and PowerPoint and incorporate problem solving skills, investigate computer science topics (i.e., how the difference in a sorting algorithm will affect their checkout time at the local grocery store). Computer Science Unplugged [3] has a wealth of information and activities available to teach these concepts to elementary school children in a fun way that does not require access to computers. Another way to increase computer science topics is to integrate computer components into existing courses. I mentioned earlier about books or historical topics introduced in English or History classes. Other ideas include using the ipod or cell phone to demonstrate the concepts of randomization, hashing, programming, storage, etc.

The final piece of this educational puzzle is to certify computer science teachers at the elementary and secondary level. To have knowledgeable people demonstrate the possibilities, beauty and benefits of computer science would give students a more complete view of the field of computer science. There have been some worries that by requiring all computer science teachers to be certified, we will limit the number of teachers available. We may see this happen at first, but once students realize that it is possible to combine a major in computer science with a career in teaching, these numbers should increase.

I didn’t want this article to be all “doom and gloom” and I don’t feel it is. There are serious problems, but all the answers are there, we just need to implement them. There are many people working hard to promote computer science in the U.S., especially among girls and women. The Girl Scouts’ Girls Go Tech Program, Computer Science Unplugged and other programs run by various colleges and universities, are exposing young girls to the concepts of computer science. The CSTA focuses on the secondary school experience for students and their teachers across the country. Once these students enter college or university, there are several support organizations such as ACM, Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, CRA-W and the Grace Hopper Women in Computing Conference, which provide guidance, support and role models. These are just a few groups that are doing amazing work in increasing the number of young people entering the field of computer science. A sobering thought when one considers all the projects currently in place is this: how many fewer majors would we have without these programs?

The time is right, the time is now, we need to work together to create national programs that incorporate computers into the students’ curriculum as much as they are already incorporated into the rest of their lives.

[1] May 2008 edition of Computing Research News, Vol. 20/No. 3
[2] The New York Times, April 17, 2007
[3] Computer Science Unplugged,