Group for Women in Computer Science is Reborn

The long-dormant organization Women in Computer Science returned to Harvard this spring.

The group aims to generate enthusiasm among women interested in computer science within and outside of Harvard.

Founders Anne W. Madoff ’15 and Amy M. Yin ’13 decided to revive the group after noticing a need for a female community within the computer science department.

Though the numbers of female concentrators have been generally rising within the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, where computer science is housed, the percentage of women in computer science fell this year, from 42 percent in the Class of 2013 to 22 percent in the Class of 2014, according to computer science professor Harry R. Lewis ’68.

“What happened is we lost one or two women and gained about 15 men,” Lewis said.

Yin said that she believes that the discrepancy can be attributed in part to the low visibility of women within the department.

“Harvard does a good job with classes like CS50 that make computer science accessible to everyone, including women. However, there aren’t many female role models,” she said.

Two of the four female computer science professors on staff are currently on sabbatical, Yin added.

Madoff said that the group hopes to provide a close-knit support system for women in the department. It plans to host speakers, social gatherings, and trips to summits such as the Grace Hopper Women in Computing Conference. Madoff and Yin said they also hope to get pre-college students excited about the field.

“When I was younger, computer science never even crossed my mind because it seemed like something people did alone in dark rooms at 4 in the morning and that didn’t really fit my lifestyle,” said Yin, “Coding will soon become the next typing. We want to emphasize that CS really is something that cool people do.”

Yifan Wu ’14 said that she joined the organization to get to know other women in computer science and benefit from the networking opportunities of an intimate organization

“I feel that I would be able to get a lot of synergy from this group,” Wu said.

Professors and administrators across SEAS have welcomed the revived group.

“This type of peer support is really helpful,” Lewis said. “It’s great that they’re doing this.”

The organization currently meets at the Women’s Center and plans to apply for official recognition from the Committee on Student Life next year.

—Staff writer Akua F. Abu can be reached at aabu@college.harvard.edu.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: May 2

An earlier version of this article stated that the two female computer science professors at Harvard are currently on sabbatical. In fact, according to Amy M. Yin ’13, two out of four female computer science professors are on sabbatical.

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