Program aims to increase women and underrepresented minorities in computer science
Girls and women in the U.S. are avid tech users, yet are significantly underrepresented in its creation, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT).
Of all baccalaureate computer and information science degrees, women comprise only 18 percent of degrees earned. If technology is primarily designed by men, according to NCWIT, we're missing out on innovations, solutions and creations that the female population could bring.
With the recent addition of Lehigh University’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering as an official BRAID affiliate, the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering is part of the solution.
The BRAID initiative (Building, Recruiting and Inclusion for Diversity), founded in 2014, aims to increase the percentage of women and underrepresented minority students majoring in computer science. The initiative includes more than a dozen computer science departments throughout the U.S. that are committed to implementing changes in their introductory computer science courses, creating pathways into the major, and implementing departmental climate and outreach efforts.
"We have a long history of engaging in activities to increase diversity in the department and in the field of computing in general," said Dan Lopresti, professor and department chair. "We look forward to exchanging ideas and best practices with the other BRAID affiliates."
Through orchestrated efforts over the past six years, the Lehigh CSE has nearly tripled its number of undergraduate women and is now more than 25 percent female, according to Lopresti. Earlier this month, the department served as the official ambassador for the 2018 Stanford Women in Data Science Conference (WiDS), livestreaming the event. Lehigh CSE also actively works to bring in women speakers for its seminar series as well as attract female faculty members.
Other efforts to increase diversity at the department include:
  • A one-credit course on Women in Technology, co-developed and co-taught by Lopresti that links the Lehigh campus to women leaders at high-tech Silicon Valley companies
  • Annual cohorts of students and faculty to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing and the ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing
  • Support of student-initiated activities aimed at fostering diversity
  • Membership in NCWIT
"As we increase teaching capacity to meet the expected onslaught of students in computer and information science, we hope to determine through BRAID some concrete steps to make our introductory courses more attractive and accessible while maintaining rigor," Lopresti said. "We also hope to learn about the kinds of on-campus discussions that have been productive in enhancing diversity at other institutions and find ways of implementing them here."
Lehigh CSE will also participate in BRAID's long-term research study to document the many changes taking place at all member institutions resulting from the initiative.