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USF Women Lead and Succeed

Women's History Month

03-07-2014
EJ Jung Computer Campu

EJ Jung (left), assistant professor of computer science, works with students at her summer camp for middle school girls, Computer Science for San Francisco Youth.

USF women are leading and succeeding in diverse industries, including many that remain dominated by men. Here, in honor of Women’s History Month, we present a series of profiles of exceptional, inspirational women who are making their mark in fields from computer science to stand-up comedy. 

Shattering the glass ceiling

Among the most male-dominated of professions is one in which jobs are plentiful and salaries are high: computer science. Women earn more than half of all college degrees but just 18 percent of those are in computer science, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology. And the percentage of women working in computing has declined dramatically since the 1980s. 

EJ Jung, assistant professor of computer science at USF, is the second tenure-track female in the department. She’s also an expert in Internet security and runs USF’s Computer Science for San Francisco Youth, a summer camp for girls. She shares what she loves most about computer science and the challenges she’s faced in the industry.

Boys vs. Girls 

How did you get into the field?

I went to a special high school for math and science. I thought I’d be a mathematician, but when they offered a computer science course, I fell in love with the elegance of it. There are so many different ways of achieving the goal you want. When I saw elegant solutions, I was like, ‘Whoa, this is awesome. This is what I want to be able to do.’

Were most of your classmates boys?

There were about five boys for every one girl. In college, the ratio became 10 to one, and when I went to grad school, it was still 10 to one.

Women in computer science 

What obstacles did you face as a woman in the industry?

I think there are challenges that are applicable to any male-dominated discipline. You have to be your own salesman and radiate confidence, and it’s more the male culture to brag about yourself. When you’re presenting your article or your findings, you have to have this almost fake masculine attitude of ‘Oh I’m so great.’ And that has been a challenge. I originally thought it was because I’m Asian, and I’m coming from a culture where we don’t brag about ourselves, or because I’m not as confident in my English or because I’m a woman.

Why do you think many girls choose not to study computer science?

Women are socially driven, and many think that computer scientists are lonely, that we just sit in front of the computer by ourselves, and that we don’t have many friends. It’s very untrue, but that image definitely pushes women away. But when girls realize they can help people with their programming skills, they jump on it. 

Training the next generation

How do we increase the number of women in computer science?

I don’t believe we have to have more female computer scientists, and I think it surprises a lot of people when I say that. There is research that shows that when you have a more diverse workforce, you get better products and more customer satisfaction. But I’m not going to tell my girls to be computer scientists so we have better products or increase the national GDP. I just don’t want anyone to think, ‘I’m the only girl in this group. Maybe I shouldn’t do this.’ I don’t want people to not have opportunities because of gender. It’s unfair.

Tell us about your summer camp.

At my summer camp, middle school girls learn programming, how to work with HTML and make games. They go on field trips to Twitter and Mozilla and are encouraged and supported. I make an extra effort to recruit girls of color and show them that they can express themselves through computer science. Sometimes I get random emails from parents and girls years later saying, ‘Hey, I was in your program years ago, and I’m doing computer science at so-and-so college.’ It’s pretty cool.

Written by Monica Villavicencio »email usfnews@usfca.edu | Twitter @usfcanews