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Breaking Down the Gender Barrier

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student with UNL's Jodi Holt

An incoming freshman works on class scheduling with Jodi Holt, Undergraduate Programs and Communications Specialist with the Computer Science and Engineering department at UNL.

Credit: Gwyneth Roberts

A recent ACM survey of more than 1,400 college-bound high school students found that 45 percent of boys see a computer science major as a "very good" choice, but only 10 percent of girls have a similar opinion. Experts at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), where only 5 percent to 10 percent of approximately 350 computer science and engineering students are female, say they have noticed the problem and are working to spread the word about the urgent need for a technology-savvy work force in which both genders are equally represented. The university has launched an initiative called the Girl Empowerment and Mentoring for Computing Project (GEM), which aims to inspire girls to pursue careers in information technology.

The GEM project gives female computer science students at UNL the opportunity to serve as mentors to middle- and high-school girls interested in computing fields. Participants are divided into teams, and with the help of their mentor, prepare essays on topics related to information technology, including environmentally-friendly computers, hybrid cars, and the use of technology to save endangered species. UNL faculty members judge the essays and award scholarships worth up to $1,000 per year if they attend UNL and pursue computer science as a major.

UNL professor Stephen Scott says women are an "untapped market" for the computer science field. "As women have become more prominent in taking leadership roles in society, they need to be at least as informed about computing and participating at least as much as men are," Scott says.

From Lincoln Journal Star
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Abstracts Copyright © 2009 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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