by Gisele Galoustian | Wednesday, Apr 13, 2022

Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science has received a grant from the Center for Inclusive Computing (CIC) at Northeastern University to support their "Empowering Women for Careers in Computer Science" initiative. CIC is funded by Pivotal Ventures, a Melinda French Gates company, and has a mission to transform the national landscape of women in technology through grant funding at the undergraduate level, expert technical assistance by computing faculty, and meaningful data collection for diagnostic and evaluation purposes.

Since 2018, FAU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science has placed a strong emphasis on recruiting and retaining women in engineering and computer science.

“We are very excited to receive this Diagnostic Grant, which is designed to look deeply into persistence and retention data to assess how our College of Engineering and Computer Science is doing as it relates to women in computing,” said  Shihong Huang, Ph.D., project director, associate dean for faculty affairs, equity and inclusion, professor, and director of the Software Engineering Laboratory within the  Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “This project is the first step toward a much larger effort implementing evidence-based approaches to increasing women in computing.”

Among the significant efforts the College of Engineering and Computer Science has undertaken is its flagship, “Women in Engineering/Computer Science” (WIE/CS) program. WIE/CS is a comprehensive platform that provides female students with the essential support, encouragement and the tools needed for successful academic and professional careers. The program incorporates mentoring support, professional development, scholarship opportunities, academic support, community outreach, company site visits and social activities.

In addition to the WIE/CS program, the college also provides other programs to recruit and retain female students such as “Girls Exploring Engineering Summer Camp.” Through peer mentoring from female college students, female students in grades 7 to 9 learn various engineering and computer science concepts, coding and how to conduct research. WIE/CS members serve as role models and mentors for these young girls to explore the world of engineering and computer science.

These ongoing initiatives implemented by the College of Engineering and Computer Science were recognized by the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) in January 2021 with its highest award for commitment to inclusive excellence.

“The FAU College of Engineering and Computer Science strives to create a genuinely inclusive culture that fosters empowerment and engagement in an environment where every member can thrive. We recognize that diversity is key to create a rich talent workforce pool to support a vibrant technological future in America,” said  Stella Batalama, Ph.D., dean, College of Engineering and Computer Science. “Receiving this prestigious grant places us in good company nationally among outstanding academic institutions for diversity and inclusion such as Carnegie Mellon University, University of California, Los Angeles, Michigan State University, among others.”

For the past five years, thanks in part to the WIE/CS program and other female student-oriented programs, the College of Engineering and Computer Science has experienced a steady upward trend of female student enrollment in computer science. Enrollment of female computer science majors increased from 12.78 percent in fall 2016 to 21.69 percent in fall 2020; female graduates in computing bachelor’s degrees increased from 12.6 percent in 2017-2018 to 17.6 percent in 2019-2020. The number of women participating in the overall WIE/CS program – serving as mentors, mentees and members – also has increased annually. From 2018 to 2022, the WIE/CS program increased the number of participants from 46 to 133. These same female students achieved higher cumulative GPA – the number of female students with a GPA of 3.0 and higher increased from 44.20 percent in 2017 to currently 73.5 percent.

“Although we have numerous initiatives in place, we now need to assess and evaluate the efficacy of these programs in increasing women in computing,” said Huang. “With this Diagnostic Grant, we will be able to conduct an in-depth study to understand how we can better encourage and support our female students and collect qualitative and quantitative data to gain an in-depth understanding of recruitment, retention as well as tracking and monitoring our success.”