When Isabelle Schmit walked into the Department of Computer Science five years ago for freshman orientation, she looked around the room and counted only five women among 60 students.
The number of female students who enroll in the department and graduate with degrees has increased dramatically in the last five years.
“The increased visibility of students in the department has made a huge difference,” says Schmit ’16, who is pursuing a master’s degree at the University’s Goergen Institute for Data Science.
In 2010 the department’s graduating class of 20 students included only one woman. This year, the expected graduating class of 119 students will be 34 percent female—double the national average.
This, despite a recent University of Washington study showing that computer science nationwide continues to be a male-dominated culture where many women feel they do not belong.
Two factors have helped change that at Rochester.
Pamela Vong graduated from URCS in 2008, one of only two women to fraduate that year. Pam was the first undergraduate the department sponsored to attend the Grace Hopper Conference (in 2007). She has lived in Washington, D.C., for the past six-plus years and is currently working for InfernoRed Technology, where her official title is "Tech Wizard." She consults in a wide range of software development projects (from LOB systems to mobile apps) and for a wide range of clients (including start-ups and nonprofits).
Ed: In 2007, you became the first undergraduate to be funded by the Department of Computer Science to attend the Grace Hopper Conference. You were able to attend GHC again in 2015. Comparing 2015 with 2007, what has changed?
P.V.: The conference in 2015 was almost nine times bigger than it was in 2007. When I went as an undergrad, there were about 1,400 attendees, which felt huge to me at the time becuase I had never been around so many technical women before!