Microsoft Research Connections Blog

The Microsoft Research Connections blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

Addressing the Need for More Women in Computer Science Programs

Addressing the Need for More Women in Computer Science Programs

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Last year, women accounted for only 14 percent of computer science college graduates in the United States, according to the Computing Research Association. That’s down from 35 percent in 1985, despite U.S. Labor Department statistics that show computing to be among the fastest-growing, most in-demand fields, with too few qualified candidates to fill the available openings. In addition, studies reveal that executives value the variety of perspectives that comes with team diversity, yet another reason for needing greater female participation in computing careers.

Last year, women accounted for only 14 percent of computer science college graduates in the United States.

As a technology company and innovation leader, Microsoft is passionate about increasing the participation of women in computing, which means attracting more female students to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs. CEO Steve Ballmer has acknowledged this need, observing that “…we need to keep more women interested longer in their lives in STEM subjects.” We know this will require a concerted effort across private companies, NGOs, IGOs, government, and academia. We recognize that it’s vital for young women to get support during their undergraduate and graduate studies and to be exposed to opportunities in computer science, which is why Microsoft Research is proud to support the NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund and to fund the Microsoft Research Graduate Women’s Scholarship.

I remember my first year of college engineering studies: I took Computer Science 101, studying PASCAL. I found it extremely boring, and I had no idea what careers were available in computer science, even though I was working at the school’s computer center where I supported students in computer labs, installed network cards into student computers, and helped the IT staff build the university’s firewall. At the time, I had no idea these duties, which I really enjoyed, were potential careers in computer science. After being approached by one of the professors to conduct research on building an animatronic bison for the engineering department, I decided to focus my energies on mechanical engineering and robotics. I didn’t realize that robotics could be part of the computer science world. A future in computer science engineering seemed out of the question—so there I was: one less woman in computer science.

Today, I want to do everything possible so that young women don’t make the same mistakes as I did. It is critical for us at Microsoft Research to familiarize young women with the amazing career opportunities in computing. In furtherance of that goal, I would like to highlight the programs and recipients of this year’s NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund and the Microsoft Research Graduate Women’s Scholarship.

NCWIT is a national coalition of more than 200 prominent corporations, academic institutions, government agencies, and nonprofits working to strengthen the technology workforce and cultivate innovation by increasing the participation of women. Its Academic Alliance brings together more than 250 distinguished representatives from the computer science and IT departments of colleges across the country, spanning research universities, community colleges, women’s colleges, and minority-serving institutions. In 2007, Microsoft Research initiated the Seed Fund in partnership with NCWIT Academic Alliance. The NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund provides U.S. academic institutions with funds (up to US$15,000 per project) to develop and implement initiatives for recruiting and retaining women in computer science and information technology fields of study. To date, the Seed Fund has awarded US$315,450. In partnership with NCWIT Academic Alliance, we would like to announce the 2012 winners:

  • Claremont Graduate University will team with Scripps College Academy to provide workshops that provide high school, undergraduate, and graduate students with mentoring and support to pursue careers in technology and computing. Project Principal Investigator: Gondy Leroy.
  • Fisk University will integrate software engineering into its GUSTO (Girls Using Scientific Tools for Opportunities) project, which introduces, encourages, and prepares low-income and minority girls for STEM careers. Project Principal Investigator: Ray Bullock.
  • Union College will pilot a successful Seed Fund project from another institution: a social robotics outreach workshop in which women computing undergraduates serve as mentors and educators for middle- and high-school girls. Project Principal Investigator: Nick Webb.
  • The University of Central Arkansas will build a female-friendly environment for computing majors by recruiting a first-year cohort of women and retaining them with opportunities for learning, research, service, and leadership. Project Principal Investigators: Chenyi Hu, Yu Sun, and Karen Thessing.
  • The University of Virginia will focus on actively recruiting computing graduate students from traditionally underrepresented groups by providing enhanced exposure to graduate programs, facilities, faculty, and graduate student life. Project Principal Investigator: Gwen Busby.

In addition, we know that a woman’s first two years of computer science graduate study are the most critical. During this time, she must determine her area of focus, increase her confidence in the field, enhance her capabilities in publishing and research, and build her network. This is why Microsoft Research created the Women’s Graduate Scholarship, which provides a US$15,000 stipend plus a US$2,000 travel and conference allowance to women in their second year of graduate study (at a U.S. or Canadian university), helping them gain visibility in their departments, acquire mentorship, and cover the burgeoning cost of graduate programs. Winners of the 2012 Microsoft Research Graduate Scholarship are:

Recipient University
Danielle Bragg Princeton University
Elizabeth Murnane Cornell University
Emily Sergel University of California, San Diego
Jennifer Townsend Georgia Institute of Technology
Joanna Drummond University of Toronto
Kaitlin Speer Northwestern University
Valkyrie Savage University of California, Berkeley
Vanessa Sochat Stanford University
Veronica Catete University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Yubin Kim Carnegie Mellon University


Congratulations to all the winning programs and students. We look forward to great things from 2012’s women in computing.

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Education and Scholarly Communication Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research Connections

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