Last fall 46 percent of the students enrolled in University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s College of Engineering computer science degree program were women.
This was a huge step toward gender parity for the highly-ranked computer science school–in 2012, only 6 percent of students in the same program were women. It’s also well above the 18 percent of women majoring in computer science nationwide.
Now UIUC has received a $100,000 grant in recognition of their progress, and to continue supporting women in computer science at the school.
UIUC received the $100,000 grand prize for the National Center for Women in Information Technology (NCWIT) NEXT Award, which recognizes schools that have made strides in recruiting and retaining women in technology, and provides grant funding toward further resources and research on the topic.
NCWIT said the school’s outreach and recruiting efforts (including a CS camp for high school girls and a chapter of Girls Who Code), and work to identify and eliminate the effects of implicit bias in admissions were two big reasons why UIUC received the top prize. UIUC’s work to improve teaching, support collaborative learning and invest in student activities, as well as adding a series of “CS + X” multidisciplinary majors (such as CS+Anthropology and CS+Astronomy) which have further attracted female students to computer science, also played a role.
These efforts will be key moving forward as the school aims to continue to recruit and retain women in tech. For the upcoming fall, 33 percent of incoming freshman computer science students in the college of engineering are women (though those are preliminary numbers and are likely to change once the school year is underway). While a dip from fall 2016, it’s higher than the school’s historic baseline.
UIUC will use the $100,000 to continue these efforts, said Colin Robertson, assistant director of communications at UIUC’s department of computer science, including:
- Support for modifying the content and pacing of the school’s introductory sequence of courses
- Expanding peer tutoring programs and developing training materials for peer tutors
- Developing a predictive model of student success, and struggle
- Doing a principled study to determine factors that contribute to feelings of “not belonging”
- Developing an ad campaign and materials for promoting CS + X programs
“Computing touches nearly every field today, from the arts and science, to business, medicine, and engineering,” said computer science department head Rob A. Rutenbar, in a statement. “We want computing’s remarkable opportunities to be available to everyone. The NCWIT NEXT Award Grand Prize is a fantastic acknowledgement of our efforts at Illinois to make the field more representative of the people around us, and it will help us to continue to move forward.”