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CECS Department Receives Grant to Recruit and Retain Women in Computing

Published October 20, 2021

The CSULB Computer Engineering & Computer Science Department (CECS) has been awarded a $500,000 grant from the Center for Inclusive Computing (CIC) at Northeastern University to recruit and retain more female students.

The CIC awards grants to universities across the United States to improve the experience for women in undergraduate computing programs. CIC is funded by Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company created by Melinda French Gates.

At CSULB, the two-year grant will support creation of General Education courses to attract interest from the broader campus community, retooling introductory computing courses to make them more inclusive, a staff advisor for computing, and collaboration with community colleges to create a pipeline of future students.

Computer Science Discovery courses will also be created in areas of computing, such as data science, that attract higher interest among women students. The CECS Department is currently working with faculty across other disciplines at CSULB to create an applied interdisciplinary data science degree where students apply computing and data science skills to data-rich domains.

“We need to recruit more women students, and make sure that when they come here to study, they feel like this is home for them,” said CECS Department Chair Mehrdad Aliasgari, who will be leading the program. “Our ultimate goal is to remove any barriers to women succeeding in computer science. We want Cal State Long Beach to be known as the place for women to study computer science.”

One factor in CSULB being awarded the grant was the college’s strong support for the program. “The College of Engineering is dedicated to providing an inclusive and supportive environment for all students interested in obtaining an engineering degree—including women,” said College of Engineering Dean Jinny Rhee. “We are extremely grateful to the CIC for providing this much-needed support for women interested in studying and pursuing careers in computing.”

The CECS Department is the College of Engineering’s largest, producing nearly one-third of the college’s 1,200 graduates each year. Only about 20 percent of CECS graduates are women, in line with the national average.

While gender representation is reaching parity in some disciplines, such as environmental engineering and biomedical engineering, women earn only one in five undergraduate computer science bachelor’s degrees nationally, according to the most recent statistics from the American Society for Engineering Education.

“Over the years, the needle hasn’t moved much, and it’s not where it should be,” Aliasgari said.

The proportion of women studying computing has actually declined since the 1980s. The lack of female representation in the tech field is problematic for a number of reasons, said Aliasgari. “Industry continues to develop a lot of products affecting everyday lives, in areas such as artificial intelligence, and security. We need to make sure we do a good job ensuring that women are part of those teams.”

According to Statista, as of July, only about one in four tech jobs at Facebook, Google, and Microsoft were held by women. AnitaB.org, which has been tracking Top Companies for Women Technologists since 2011, reported this year that women accounted for 28.8 percent of technologists working for its 50-plus reporting companies. The organization has reported a nearly 3 percent increase in the number of women technologists since 2018.

Cal State Long Beach is one of four institutions this round to be awarded a CIC Implementation Grant, which supports the implementation of evidence-based approaches that quickly and significantly increase the representation of women in undergraduate computing.

“We provide financial and technical support to universities like Cal State Long Beach to help them attract and retain women in computing. We welcome the partnership and commitment from CECS to join us in our mission to change the national landscape of tech,” said Carla Brodley, Dean of Inclusive Computing and the CIC's founding executive director.

Six other CECS faculty will work with Aliasgari on the program, including Professors Forouzan Golshani and Tracy Bradley Maples, Associate Professor Oscar Morales Ponce, Assistant Professors Jelena Trajkovic and Wenlu Zhang, and Lecturer Susan Nachawati.