Girls Studying STEM at CMU Leading the Way

Computer science is one of the hottest job fields, and Carnegie Mellon University has one of the top programs in the country, but the percentage of women studying computer science has gone down in the past 30 years — from 37% in 1984 to 18% in 2014.

CMU is bucking that trend and increasing its percentage of women in computer science.  This year, there are 102 women and 103 men in the freshman class — almost 50% female.

Amber Griffith, who’s from Butler, Avital Rabinovitch from Massachusets and Abigail Savit from Long Island are three of the freshman women studying computer science. All three say they were attracted to computing because it’s rooted in problem solving. “I really liked doing puzzles and problem solving, and I really liked that there was a field where I could do that for a living,” Savit said.  “For me, it was always the puzzle of it,” Griffith said. “Doing code – it’s taking someone’s words and turning it into syntax for the English language,” she explained.

All of them were used to being te only girl, or one of just 2 girls, in their computer science classes in high school.  Rabinovitch remembered her experience at a summer program at Johns Hopkins University, “I came in and there was only one other girl and it was shocking, but I remembered from my parents that I didn’t feel like being a girl make the content anymore difficult,” she said.

These women love having more women in their classes at CMU but say there’s still pressure as a woman.  “If I mess up, it’s not “Amber doesn’t know code’, it’s ‘girls don’t know code,” Griffith said.

The challenge for girls in science starts early.  A recent study finds girls as young as 6 are already absorbing stereotypes that boys are smarter than girls. Another study found that while 21% of parents encouraged their girls to be actors, only 10% encouraged their daughters to be engineers.

Rabinovitch has worked with many girls and boys at a Boston science center and says, “I think it’s not the interest, it’s getting girls comfortable that this is a field that’s for them too.” She adds, “I would definitely say to all parents out there to let your kids explore everything.”

These three women hope to inspire more girls to join their ranks.  If more girls don’t start pursuing computer science now, the disparity of women in computer science jobs will only increase. Studies show that at the rate it’s going right now, with computer science jobs increasing three times the national average, it’s estimated that women will hold only 20% of computing jobs by 2025.

These girls have advice for girls interested in STEM in any capacity. “Despite what you see in society, you can accomplish just as much as anyone around you, and computer science is one of the coolest fields around there so go get it!” says Rabinovitch.

One way you can get girls excited about science and STEM is at the Girls Rock Science event September 23 and 24 at the Carnegie Science Center.  It’s free with admission to the science center and includes hands-on STEM activities to teach girls of all ages about all kinds of STEM careers.