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Ericson talks women in computer science with BBC World Service

Wednesday, 09/11/2019

In the movie Hidden Figures, the computing power of a group of women drove successes in the early space program. In fact, the early history of computer science is filled with stories of the accomplishments of women. 

So why aren’t more women interested in computing careers?

UMSI assistant professor Barbara Ericson has some thoughts. Much of her research has centered on removing barriers to computer science education, especially for underrepresented students. And that definitely includes women. 

On a recent episode of The Why Factor on BBC World Service radio, Ericson chats about her observations in academia and how schools can do a better job at including women in computer science.

She says part of the problem is that an overwhelming majority of people have no idea what a computer scientist is or does. 

“When I worked with high school teachers, they often were surprised to find out how many things were involved in computer science,” Ericson told The Why Factor. “They have this very narrow view that it’s just programing and it’s just really boring and anti-social, male, and too much math.”

Engagement is key for colleges and universities to recruit more women into computer science, Ericson said. 

“Unfortunately a lot of the computing curriculum is rather outdated and boring to women especially,” said Ericson. “So one way I think universities can increase [the number of women in computing] is to create new degrees in new fields.” 

As an example, Ericson said her PhD program in human-centered computing, which is computer science plus psychology and sociology, was majority female.

Listen to the whole feature online.

- Jessica Webster, UMSI PR Specialist