UW Bothell No. 4 for women in computer science


The University of Washington Bothell has been ranked No. 4 among four-year public colleges in the nation awarding bachelor degrees in computer science to women.

The Chronicle of Higher Education compiled the rankings in February based on its analysis of Department of Education data on degrees awarded in 2016-17. Of the 182 computer science degrees UW Bothell awarded that year, 30 percent went to women, an increase of 16 percentage points over the 2009-10 graduates, the Chronicle found.

The Chronicle also ranked the University of Washington in Seattle No. 2 on its list with 35 percent of its 460 computer science degrees awarded to women, an increase of 14 percentage points.

By the numbers

The trend at UW Bothell is toward a growing percentage of women studying computer science, although the exact numbers vary, said Elaine Scott, professor and dean of the School of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM).

For fall quarter of 2018-19, there were 580 students enrolled in the school’s Computing & Software Systems (CSS) division, and 26 percent of them were women, Scott said. That includes majors in Applied Computing, in Computer Science and Software Engineering (CSSE) and in Interactive Media Design, a program co-led by the School of STEM and UW Bothell’s School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences.

The Chronicle only looked at undergraduates, but UW Bothell’s numbers for women graduate students are even better. Of the 200 graduate students enrolled in the fall 2018 quarter in the CSS division 38 percent were women, Scott said.

The School of STEM also has made a concerted effort to hire women faculty, she noted, and now has a computer science faculty where 29 percent are women.

Nationally, the number of women graduating in computer science has actually dropped from a high of 37 percent in 1983 to just under 19 percent in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Education. But at the same time, said Scott, the university hears from industry partners that they want a more diverse workforce.

“I think having more women in industry is critically important for our national economy,” Scott said.

Founding principles

Bill Erdly at CSSE capstone poster presentations.

Bill Erdly at CSSE capstone poster presentations.

UW Bothell

The computer science program at UW Bothell was launched in 1996 by Bill Erdly, associate professor and current chair of the CSS division. The program became part of the School of STEM in 2013 when it was created and Scott named as dean. The school moved into Discovery Hall when it opened in 2014.

“CSS was founded on the principles of being interdisciplinary and providing access to students with diverse interests and abilities,” Erdly said. “One of the first electives ever offered within CSS was Women in Computing, now offered as Women in STEM.”

Early on, the student chapter of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) received an award for hosting a conference called Future Women in Computing. It focused on inspiring young women in middle school and high school to learn about — and experience success in — solving computational problems, Erdly said.

“Now, it is exciting to see these important increases in the number of graduates and so many job opportunities for women in computing,” he said.

One recent graduate said her experience at UW Bothell was invaluable in starting her career as a software engineer for Cisco in San Jose. Julia Owsen graduated at the end of fall quarter 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in CSSE. It’s a rigorous program, she said, but worth it.

“Faculty members were essential in empowering me and giving me the encouragement I needed to make me believe that I could succeed, even in times when I was unsure if I could make it through,” she said.

As a student, Owsen also had the opportunity to work as a web assistant in UW Bothell’s Office of Marketing & Communications where she gained experience working on the front and back end of the university website.

“The people and work tasks from this time continue to guide me in my everyday work,” she said, making particular note of her user experience (UX) design work and her project management skills.

Outside her tech skills, Owsen said her biggest help in moving to California was the study abroad trip she took to Lyon, France. “Due to this experience, I was able to feel comfortable moving to a completely new place.”

Effort results in opportunity

Julia Owsen with poster on capstone project.

Julia Owsen with poster on capstone project.

UW Bothell

There aren’t many women engineers in Silicon Valley, although the work culture at Cisco is great, Owsen said.

“In terms of women in computer science, a lot of progress has been made, but the numbers are still not there yet,” she said. “I think empowering women in general is crucial due to stereotypes and what is generally perceived.

“The way that UW Bothell — and companies here — encourage women is beneficial,” she said. “I think the more that women can see themselves in these roles, the more likely they are to pursue them.”

Owsen said her UW Bothell education gave her technical, professional and interpersonal skills as well as motivation and flexibility.

“There is so much opportunity that the school offers to those who seek it and are willing to put in the effort to pursue it.”

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