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The Markey Scholars Conference: Proceedings
cally black colleges. Spellman College sends more black women into science than the rest of universities put together. The reason is that these are institutions that pay a lot of attention to individuals. For young women to be interested in science, what really matters is being in a place where people are paying attention to people. Of course, this extends up through the ranks as well.
Institutions have to take the lead that was set by MIT and study themselves, and then honestly publicize the results. We need to know where we are in order to know where we are going. I really admire Chuck Vest at MIT. He did an extraordinary thing by publishing the results of that MIT study. He set a model that the rest of the universities should absolutely be following.
The last point is developing curriculum that encourages students rather than weeds them out, but at the same time that also sets high expectations.
For example, this year I met with the advisory committee to our computer science department. Computer science is a very interesting field because it was created about the same time as molecular biology. One of the explanations that has been given for why there are so many women in molecular biology relative to other sciences is because it was a new field; it did not have 250 years of culture dragging along behind it. From the very outset women were active participants and it was the lack of history that really made the difference. Computer science is a counter example. Computer science started just about the same time and had a similar early history. Women poured into computer science in the 1960s, and were doing extremely well and then their numbers took a nosedive. Now computer science is a field that struggles to find women students.
The advisory committee pointed something out to me. Imagine what it is like for a woman on the first day of a Computer Science 101 class. She is sitting in a room full of young men who have been programming since they were 12, spending their entire lives in their bedrooms playing computer games, and who can probably teach the class. There are very few young women who come in with that kind of cultural background. There are fundamental differences in the experiences of 18-year-old men and women with respect to computer science. It is extremely important to create curriculum that is equally satisfying to men and women rather than putting them in the same classes and expecting the same outcomes from them. For about 4 years, Carnegie Mellon has had a program in place that does exactly that, and it has been extraordinarily successful. They are now graduating more women in computer science than any other university in the country. It was simply a matter of acknowledging this simple difference, and then adjusting the curriculum.
These are some of the things that we are trying to do in order to ensure that the next generation of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians is going to include women.