Getting more women in STEM fields remains a challenge all over. In the United States, men earn nearly 80 percent of engineering and computer science bachelor’s degrees, even though more than half the country’s population is female. And while underrepresented minority women make up 16 percent of the population, they earn just three and five percent of bachelor’s degrees in engineering and computer science respectively.
The gender gap in engineering and computer science has endured for decades. Earlier this year, the Chronicle of Higher Education highlighted the field’s efforts to address this longstanding problem, issuing its newest rankings for colleges and universities based on their representation of women in engineering and computer science, as reported in the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.
How UVA is increasing women in STEM
The University of Virginia School of Engineering has emerged as a top choice for women seeking engineering and computer science degrees, ranking third among all U.S. public universities for its percentage of women earning undergraduate engineering degrees—and first among public schools that awarded at least 75 engineering diplomas. UVA also ranks among the top 10 for its percentage of women earning bachelor’s degrees in computer science (29.5 percent), exceeding the national average of 18 percent.
This year, nearly a third of undergraduate and graduate students at UVA Engineering are women, outpacing national averages of 21 and 25 percent respectively.
“We believe it is our responsibility to help widen the pipeline of scientists and engineers,” says Pamela
Norris, executive dean of UVA Engineering and director of UVA CHARGE, a National Science Foundation ADVANCE program designed to increase the representation of women in STEM faculty positions. “Society needs as many highly trained people as possible working together to solve big problems in a broad range of areas, from health care to technology to environmental resilience.”
For women, making a difference is essential
UVA Engineering focuses on using research to tackle entrenched challenges, as evidence shows women and other traditionally underrepresented groups in STEM fields seek opportunities to make a difference.
UVA’s Department of Computer Science has led the way in bringing more female students to the program—and the field—for decades. The department segments its core introduction to computer science course into a set of distinct classes based on students’ stated familiarity with computer science.
In the process, less experienced students, which historically have included women and students from other groups traditionally underrepresented in engineering, can develop confidence in their abilities and bypass a barrier of intimidation. This decision has helped lead more women to pursue computer science as a major—and driven the creation of a course devoted to those who have no experience in, or are nervous about, computer science.