Fewer women majoring in computer science since 2000

Danette Spiers

Although CSUN has a high number of female professors in tenure at the Department of Computer Science, the percentage of female students attending classes within the department continues to decline.

In 2000, there were 209 female undergraduates enrolled in the department, but in the last year that number decreased to 35 students.

“I am worried because if women are not taking classes, how can they go on to graduate school and become faculty,” said Brenda Timmerman, an associate professor at CSUN who specializes in computer security.

Timmerman said that although she has developed her own theories as to why this is happening, there is not yet a clear answer.

“It is a huge question that we grapple with frequently,” Timmerman said.

Recent data from the American Society for Engineering Education indicates that the enrollment numbers for undergraduate degrees in computer science in the U.S. has decreased by more than 20 percent since 2004.

“The dramatic decline of young women studying computer science is very disturbing,” said

Betty Shanahan, executive director and CEO of the Society of Women Engineers, said in an e-mail interview, “I’m not sure that I know the complete answer. But some of the messaging on the discipline is not conducive to attracting young women.”

“As a profession we don’t emphasize the importance and value of the work of computer scientists,” Shanahan said.

The data from ASEE indicates there is more diversity among faculty members at engineering colleges, which includes computer science, with 11.3 percent of female tenured or tenure-track professors, an increase from 8.9 percent in 2001.

The decline in female undergraduate students in engineering is concerning because there is still a desire for more female representation at engineering schools.

“I’m afraid the only women we have are getting ready to retire and we don’t have replacements,” said Gloria Melara, a computer science professor. “In five or 10 years, we may lose all of them.”

Nine female tenured faculty teach at the College of Engineering and Computer Science at CSUN.

Timmerman said the last time she remembered a female hired to work as a professor in the Department of Computer Science at CSUN was in 1998.

“We do have goals to get more women, both students and faculty, and we go recruiting,” Timmerman said.

They try to provide information about the different possibilities within engineering and computer science to high schools by speaking with students and counselors.

Mechanical Engineering Professor Shoeleh Di Julio has been teaching at CSUN for 18 years and has three female students out of a classroom of 30 students, Di Julio said.

Women teaching at engineering colleges make a difference for these female students who aspire to be in the field of science, Di Juio said.

“I have been told by female students that they like to see role models and sometimes they want to know if it’s really possible to have a career as an engineer and a family,” Di Julio said. “I tell them it’s possible?It gives them also indication that females are capable because a lot of times you get messages that maybe you are not good enough to do engineering.”

Timmerman said women need these role models in computer sciences. They also need encouragement starting in grade school, where computers are now being introduced to young students, Timmerman said.

One aspect that has turned males and females away from computer science, especially toward engineering is the concern that jobs in the industry will not be available, Timmerman said.

“There is a misunderstanding that most computer jobs are outsourced and that there are not jobs here, but that is not the case. There are definitely jobs for people who get a college degree in computer science” Timmerman said.

The Department of Computer Science has established a committee that will address the issue of student enrollment. The Society of Women Engineers continues to try to increase the number of women in engineering through outreach programs and public policy.