By Corrie Coleman | Reporter
Computer science is a thriving field, producing three times the national average number of jobs. If trends continue, in 2025 only 20 percent of those jobs will be held by women according to new research from Accenture and Girls Who Code. Additionally, just 18 percent of computer science majors are women. In Mississippi, Montana, and Wyoming, no girls took the AP Computer Science exam in 2013 according to a study by Georgia Tech. However, Baylor is taking steps to encourage and empower aspiring female computer scientists despite the present gender gap.
Baylor computer science professor Cindy Fry believes the small number of female computer science majors is a problem that should be addressed. She said she has seen some female students begin as computer science majors only to change their major soon after.
“The things that tend to cause them to reconsider and choose a different major are not things that necessarily have anything to do with aptitude,” Fry said. “It’s more ‘I’m intimidated,’ ‘I don’t ask the same kinds of questions that the guys do,’ ‘Maybe I’m not cut out for this.’”
Fry added that being the only female student in a classroom is a common occurrence in the department, which can be discouraging.
Fry said she feels many of the applications of computer science taught in classrooms are aimed at male students, often causing female students to lose interest.
“We have to show [girls] an application of computing to a need that they care about,” Fry said. “There’s a lot of different ways that we can apply computer science that would keep the girls a little more interested.”
Fry attributes much of her success to her father, who was also a computer scientist and inspired her to pursue her passion. Today, Fry encourages young men to empower their daughters, just as her father did for her.
“I always tell the young men, you might want to be a great computer scientist but my hope is that you are a great husband and father,” said Fry. “There’s nothing more powerful than a father telling his daughter, ‘You know what? You can do anything.’
Baylor computer science professor Dr. Eungee Song echoes Fry, saying the role of parents as well as teachers is to encourage young people to pursue their goals, regardless of social norms.
Song believes one important key to empowering young girls to become computer scientists is to find them mentors. While in college, Song had a mentor in the computer science department.
“Having that kind of connection with a woman was very helpful,” Song said.
Nashville, Tenn., senior Hannah Pate has always known that she wants to make a difference in the world.
“When I came to college, I wanted to learn how to create something that would make the biggest impact on humanity,” said Pate. “Computer science is definitely something that you can make a difference with.”
Pate is the president of an organization called Women in Computer Science, which provides a space for female students to build community.
“[The mission of Women in Computer Science] is to form a community within Baylor to establish relationships and build up each other,” Pate said. “It makes me realize there are a lot more girls in it than what it seems like in the class setting.”
While searching for jobs, Pate has encountered companies which actively seek to recruit women. However, she has also seen those that do not.
“I went to one interview and I get there, and there’s 30, maybe 40, interviewees. Every single one of them is a guy. I’m the only girl,” Pate said. “I felt so uncomfortable and like such an outcast … I just felt sad.”
Although the company offered her a job, she did not accept.
However, Pate is not without hope.
“If we continue to establish communities like WICS … I think we can make it better,” Pate said. “We don’t have to just expect it to be a guy-dominated classroom.”
She hopes to help Women in Computer Science partner with local schools to teach young girls about computer science.
“We could go there and kind of be an inspiration and get that stereotype out of their mindset,” Pate said. “It’s a terrible stereotype to have … They definitely need to see role models.”