University of Calgary

Computer science

June 15, 2010

Getting girls hooked on computers

Students in the Seminar in Computer Science for Young Women building electronic circuits.
It's no secret that when the dot-com bubble burst it also made a dent in student enrollment in computer science programs across Canada. While the situation is improving, attracting women remains a challenge.

The University of Calgary and University of Waterloo have partnered to offer a week-long event—CEMC Seminar in Computer Science for Young Women—designed to ignite enthusiasm for computer science in female students from across Canada.

"Women have been typically underrepresented in computer science for some time. This is a perfect opportunity to engage them and show not only how exciting and dynamic the field is but also where it can take them in terms of careers," says Ken Barker, the head of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Calgary. The Calgary session started this past weekend; Waterloo's session ended a few weeks ago.

Enrollment in the undergraduate computer science program at the University of Calgary decreased between 20 and 30 percent after the dot-com bust. Although numbers of students entering computer science has increased to near normal levels, enrollment of women in the stream is hovering around 13 percent.

Sandy Graham, a professor and the director of the program at the University of Waterloo, says there are many reasons why women shy away from the field.

"It's partly an image thing. Computer science isn't what you think. There is still a geek stereotype out there," says Graham, who is at the University of Calgary this week to help with the seminar which is in its ninth year at Waterloo.

"Women seem to be uninterested in pursuing this male dominated profession and there's also an opinion out there that everything that can be build has been already built," adds Graham who has published a paper on this topic.

The sessions for female students in Grade 9 and 10 will cover traditional computer science topics such as programming, data representation, algorithms, artificial intelligence and cryptography while also exploring the links between computer science and other disciplines such as physics and medicine.

"They'll get to do a lot of hands-on work. Some of the activities include: taking apart a computer to see how it works, learning about cryptography through a scavenger hunt-type race and creating a person through computer modeling and animation," says Ben Stephenson a computer science instructor who is organizing the University of Calgary's seminar.

For more Information: www.csgirlsrock.ca/


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