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Dartmouth's Women in Science Program (WISP) recently launched a new effort to encourage and support Dartmouth students, particularly women, who are interested in exploring computer science studies.
With support from the Microsoft Foundation, WISP has developed "Exploring Computer-Based Technology from the Outside In," its first thematic series focused on one industry.
Few women major in computer science at Dartmouth. In last year's graduating class only 12 percent of computer science majors were women. And women, even if they have an initial interest, may avoid computer science classes because there are few women in them, they are intimidated, or they question their computer abilities, said Mary Pavone, Director of WISP.
"Since women sometimes feel on the outside of this field," Pavone said, "we wanted to provide a look in, and by honestly discussing some of the perceptions and attitudes that women may already have about computer science, this initiative should dispel some myths."
Dartmouth's trend is reflected nationally. The annual American Freshman Survey conducted by the American Council on Education with UCLA's Education Research Institute found that women lack computer confidence, and they are only half as likely as men to rate their computer skills as above average. To break the cycle and address this issue, WISP created "Exploring Computer-Based Technology from the Outside In."
The program will provide for students a series of panel discussions and offer a variety of job shadow opportunities. The first panel, comprised of fellow students, is on Feb. 26; another featuring faculty is scheduled for early April; and the last, with professionals, will be held in early May. All interested students are encouraged to attend. In addition, more than 20 job shadow positions have been created with Upper Valley computer-based businesses to provide short-term direct contact with professionals in the workplace.
"Literature suggests that women view computers more as tools than as toys and want to understand more connections between the computer [and its] applications to solving real world problems," said Kathy Weaver, Assistant Director of WISP. This series will help students see beyond the classroom and into career opportunities, she added.
WISP also aims to involve faculty by hosting Allan Fisher of Carnegie Mellon University on April 16, who will lecture on "Geek Mythology and Attracting Undergraduate Women to Computer Science." WISP is exploring additional opportunities for Fisher to interact with both faculty and students.
Dartmouth established WISP in 1990 to address underrepresentation of women in science, mathematics and engineering. Its focus is on retaining women in science. The project encompasses a variety of programs providing undergraduate and graduate women with mentors and role models, information on educational and career opportunities, academic support and a community of women engaged in the study of science.
Dartmouth has television (satellite uplink) and radio (ISDN) studios available for domestic and international live and taped interviews. For more information, call 603-646-3661 or see our Radio, Television capability webpage.