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Increasing Women’s Participation in Computing

November 21, 2019, 1:15 PM - 1:35 PM


The Heldrich Hotel & Conference Center

10 Livingston Avenue

New Brunswick, NJ 08901


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Rebecca Wright, Barnard College

The representation of women in computing is dismally low. In this talk, I will overview my experiences with programs focused on supporting participation of women in computing. In particular, I will describe a program developed while I was director of DIMACS, the Douglass-DIMACS-SAS Computer Science Living-Learning Community (LLC) for women at Rutgers, now in its fourth year. Each year, 20-35 first-year undergraduate women who intend to major in computer science (CS) apply and are selected to participate. LLC participants live in a common residence hall and are provided with an educational, mentoring, and community-building program that supports their progress as students and CS majors. Participants take a “house course,” Great Ideas and Insights in Computer Science, as a group, and also take a course on Knowledge and Power: Issues in Women’s Leadership. Program activities include study sessions and industry interactions, as well as opportunities to participate in K-12 outreach programs, hackathons, and computing research. To evaluate the program, participants and a similar comparison group are surveyed at the beginning and end of the academic year and a focus group is conducted with program participants. Program participants find the program valuable and would recommend it to others, but both program participants and the comparison group report some lack of confidence in their potential success as computer scientists. I will also briefly describe plans for a new program in Computer Science at Barnard College.

Speaker Bio: Rebecca Wright is the Druckenmiller Professor of Computer Science and the director of the Diana T. and P. Roy Vagelos Computational Science Center at Barnard College. Her research is primarily in the area of information security, including cryptography, privacy, foundations of computer security, and fault-tolerant distributed computing. Wright is a Distinguished Member of the ACM, a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, and the 2019 recipient of the SIGACT Distinguished Service Award for her “extraordinary service to the theoretical computer science community and beyond.” She is on the Board of Directors of the Computing Research Association's Committee on Widening Participation in Computing Research and led the development of programs at Rutgers designed to engage more women in computing. Prior to joining Barnard College, Wright served as Director of DIMACS, leading all of its various activities for over seven years.