ECU News Services
Allen talks shop with Tiffany Nguyen. Allen is a 1982 ECU computer science
graduate and a retired IBM executive. Nguyen is a freshman computer science
student. Both hope to see more female students get involved with computer
science in the future. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)
Women in ECU's computer science have bright
Nov. 3, 2016
By Rich KlindworthECU News Services
An effort in East Carolina University’s computer science
program aims to make more female students aware of opportunities in the field.
The number of computer science majors who are female is
relatively low, but it’s still higher than when Angela Allen was a student at
ECU more than three decades ago.
“There were a
few, I can’t remember how many, but there were less than 10 … there were very
few women,” said Allen, a 1982 ECU computer science graduate and retired IBM
executive who lives in Raleigh.
“We have 56
women out of 450 undergraduate students, so currently, it’s about 12 percent. …
Ideally we would like to see 50 percent
women in computing,” said Dr. Venkat Gudivada, chair of the ECU Department of
Computer Science. “I’m making a very personal effort to reach out to these
students in high schools and try to propagate the message that computing is all
about helping humanity. It’s not about coding.”
In fact, Gudivada and five ECU computer science students are
reaching out directly to high school students with the help of Google.
The group won the “igniteCS” award from the tech giant to
work with three Pitt County high schools – JH Rose, DH Conley and South
Central – to attract more students to computing. The students and their faculty
advisor will work with the computer science teachers in the high schools to provide
instructional materials and develop computing projects.
“When I was in
school, really I didn’t know much about computer science. I didn’t know what
kind of job market it had; I didn’t know what you would be doing period,” said
ECU junior Jakayla Alston, who is one of the students who won the Google award.
“I think if we reach out to younger age groups, starting with computer science,
I think that might help a little bit, show them what kind of things they could
project award winner Tiffany Nguyen said, “I feel like studying computer
science is empowering yourself. You learn skills, solve problems.”
Nguyen said they think one of the reasons more women aren’t in computer science
is due to the stereotype that the computer industry is filled with men who code
all day in a dark room by themselves.
“Being a woman
in computer science, I can break people’s expectations of things,” said Nguyen,
who is a first-year student and an EC Scholar. “People might expect you to be
the quiet, reserved kind of person when you’re in computer science, but I like
to interact with people. I like to do different activities. I’m not just
confined to math and science; I enjoy music, writing, reading different things,
Since women are
a minority in computer science, Gudivada feels companies and employers target
such graduates to not only make their workforce more diverse, but also give
them a different perspective.
(employers) really like to hire as many women as possible.” Gudivada said. “I think
they bring a certain dimension that actually complements, whether it’s in the
analysis or in the design, so you want to include a woman because they bring a
valuable contribution to the workplace.”
over a million jobs for technologists in computer science,” Allen said. “A
million jobs — that’s a lot of opportunity. It’s not just in traditional
technology companies; it’s in every company. They need people who can bring
technology to their thinking.”
Alston transferred to ECU after deciding she wanted to work
in computer science, she said.
“I chose ECU
because I felt that the program was going to challenge me,” Alston said. “They
talked about what kind of things we could be working on and what kind of
resources they have for us as far as how we can succeed after graduation, so I
thought that was fantastic.”
“If you are a female and interested in computer science, the
world is open to you,” Gudivada said. “We call computer science a discipline
Neither Alston nor Nguyen know exactly what they want to do
with their future computer science degree. Nguyen is leaning toward something in
medical research. Alston is exploring internships to help her figure out which
direction she would like to go. In addition to Alston and Nguyen, Matthew Bent,
Seaver Thorn, and Maysun Dietrich received the Google grant.
“It’s not about
what I am, but what I can bring — I can’t just sit here and ‘milk’ the
situation that I am the female in computer science. … I have to always be on my
toes no matter what,” Alston said.
Nguyen and others interested in computer science, all they have to do is look
to graduates like Allen to see the opportunities available in the robust field.
“I got an
excellent base in computer science here at East Carolina. I’ve matched my
degree to many other people in a large, vast company that I worked in, and they
came from various schools,” Allen said. “When I think about what women can do
with a basis in technology, the world is open to them.”