Kidsburgh: CMU Freshman Computer Science Program Bucks Gender Trends

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Computer science is one of the hottest fields, and Carnegie Mellon University has one of the top programs in the country.

But believe it or not, the percent of women studying computer science has gone down in the past 30 years from 37 percent to 18 percent now.

CMU, however, is bucking that trend and increasing its women in computer science.

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Amber Griffith, Avital Rabinovitch and Abigail Savit are all in the computer science program at CMU. They’re three of the 102 women and 103 men in the freshman class – almost 50 percent female.

All three were attracted to computing because it’s rooted in problem solving.

“I really liked doing puzzles and solving problems,” Savit said.

“For me, it was always, like, the puzzle of it,” Griffith said. “Doing code, it’s taking someone’s English words and turning it into the syntax of whatever coding language.”

Griffith, from Butler, and Savit, from Long Island, both said they were often the only girl in their high school computer classes.

Rabinovitch, from Massachusetts, attended a summer program at Johns Hopkins where she was one of two girls.

“I came in and there was only one other girl and it was a shock,” she said. “However, I remembered, from my parents, I didn’t feel like being a girl made the content that I was learning any more difficult.”

These women love having more women in their classes at CMU, but say there’s still pressure as a woman.

“If I mess up, it’s not Amber Griffith doesn’t know code, it’s girls don’t know code,” Griffith said.

The challenge for girls in science starts early. A recent study found girls as young as 6 are already absorbing stereotypes that boys are smarter than girls. Another study found that while 21 percent of parents encouraged their girls to be actors, only 10 percent told their girls they should be engineers.

“I think it’s not the interest that’s the issue, it’s getting girls comfortable that this is a field that’s for them, too,” Rabinovitch said. “I would definitely say to all parents out there to let their children explore everything.”

They hope to inspire more girls to join their ranks, and they have some advice.

“Despite what you see in society, you can accomplish just as much as anyone around you, and computer science is one of the coolest disciplines out there, so go get it! Go get it!” Rabinovitch said.

To get your girls excited about science and STEM, check out “Girls Rock Science” this weekend at the Carnegie Science Center. It’s free with admission to the Science Center and includes hands-on STEM activities to teach girls of all ages about all kinds of STEM careers.

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