Report from the semi-annual Pacesetters Meeting sponsored by the National Center for Women & Information Technology – held in Denver, Colorado, November 3-4, 2016
By Gloria Childress Townsend, Professor of Computer Science
DePauw University joined the National Center for Women & Information Technology’s (NCWIT) Academic Alliance in 2006 – the first small liberal arts institution to join the Alliance. NCWIT is “a non-profit organization chartered in 2004 by the National Science Foundation to increase the participation of girls and women in computing”, and “the NCWIT Academic Alliance brings together more than 1,500 distinguished representatives from academic computing programs at more than 450 colleges and universities across the country, spanning research universities, community colleges, women’s colleges, and minority-serving institutions. Charged with implementing institutional change in higher education, the Academic Alliance provides feedback on NCWIT programs, contributes and adopts effective practices, and serves as a national agent of change.” In 2013 and 2015, NCWIT selected DePauw University to participate in its Pacesetters program, joining 45 colleges, universities, and industrial leaders (e.g. Apple, Carnegie Mellon, Intel, University of California Irvine). Pacesetters members perform two tasks. One, Pacesetters publicly list institutional goals for their two-year membership period. DePauw University’s main goal lies with maintaining at least 40% female computer science graduates each May. Two, Pacesetters collectively choose a national-level project to accomplish as a group, within the two-year time period. This year’s meeting in Denver established the overarching theme for 2015-2017: Measuring inclusivity for selected cultural units. NCWIT collaborates with a Social Science Advisory Board (SSAB) – “an advisory group of social scientists from preeminent institutions nationwide that support NCWIT initiatives and goals through their knowledge of research and theory at the intersection of women and computing”. The SSAB sets NCWIT’s research agenda and has the expertise to help design and implement the metrics for the new Pacesetters’ instruments that will measure inclusivity.
Computer science continues as the only science in which women’s representation is declining. DePauw University’s Women in Computer Science Program confronts the issue of women’s underrepresentation in computing at three different levels: National, regional and local.
At the national level, the National Science Foundation awarded a $1.2M grant to Principle Investigator Townsend to collaborate with NCWIT and the Anita Borg Institute (ABI) to establish 12 new regionally-based conferences for women in computing in the United States, to bring members of the SSAB to these conferences to present workshops (regarding recruitment and retention of women in computer science) for participating faculty members, and to supply travel funding for student poster session winners and faculty members to attend the international Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (organized by ABI and resulting in 15,000 attendees, October 2016).
In 2004, Townsend organized the first regional conference for women in computing, to serve central and southern Indiana. DePauw’s female computer science students joined women from Indiana University Bloomington, Purdue University, Butler, IUPUI, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, and additional Indiana schools to present short research talks and posters and to hear influential role models present keynotes and panels. The conference concept spread to Colorado, Ohio, and Michigan before the 12 NSF grant conferences and similar conferences both inside and outside the United States (Canada, Spain, Chile, Austria, Cuba, India, Cyprus, Russia, Turkey, Philippines, Serbia, Azerbaijan, Puerto Rico) increased the number of 2015-2017 conferences to almost 50. A vision that originated with a DePauw University faculty member’s dream of uniting small groups of isolated women into larger regional communities now spans the globe.
Locally, DePauw University’s Women in Computing Program enjoys spectacular success. In a country where the average percent of women graduating with a computer science bachelor’s degree is 15%, our computer science Class of 2017 contains 47% women.