$100,000 Gift Supports Goal of Achieving Gender Parity in Tech

By Caleb Peck, College of Arts and Sciences Posted Wed, 02/21/2018 - 10:08

The mission of the Computer Science Department’s Women in Tech (WiT) initiative is to increase the number of female undergraduate and graduate students in the Computer Science and Data Science programs. That mission just received a big boost in the form of a $100,000 gift from one of tech’s leading entrepreneurs — founder of craigslist, Craig Newmark.

The money will directly impact many areas within the department, including: the Women in Tech Student Club, the Summer Girls Coding Workshop (Girl Tech Power), and the attendance of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, which Newmark has previously supported.

The numbers

Although women make up nearly half of the workforce in the U.S., only about 16 percent of computer science undergraduates are women. According to the National Science Foundation (NSF) this disparity is actually getting worse and the number in the past several years has been trending downward.

Professor Beste Yuksel acknowledges the need to actively address this concerning inequality. “We need to change the branding of computer science and encourage girls in middle school and high school to want to take CS in college. And we have to support those women in college and give them mentors and peer networks so that they will stay in the field. This is a complex and multi-faceted task. Women in tech, both in academia and industry, need men as their allies. And they need to see that they belong here, which is why donations like this from Craig Newmark Philanthropies are so crucial,” said Yuksel.

Where the gift will go

Some of the funds will be used to send students to the the Grace Hopper Celebration, the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. It is part technical, part professional development, part career fair, and, according to Yuksel, “an unbelievably awesome and inspiring event that allows women in tech to build a peer network and encourages both recruitment and retention of women in computer science.”

Newmark’s gift will also help increase the number of girls that are able to participate in Girl Tech Power, a summer workshop that enrolls about 50 students from middle school and high school and was created to introduce girls to computer science. The workshop is help run by undergraduate teaching assistants — mostly women — and this gift will also provide funding for Women in Tech members to teach the coding courses.

Women in Tech — a student chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery - Council on Women in Computing (ACM-W) — is a club that strives to empower women academically and professionally by creating a supportive community of women who have similar interests and goals within the world of tech. Women in Tech President, Darianne Lopez said, “This club has helped me grow in the world of computer science and in my personal life by giving me resources that helped me feel more confident in my abilities to reach the goals I have. This generous gift will allow us to fund our events, especially the end of the year hackathon we have planned.”

Hackathons are great opportunities for students that help to build confidence, portfolios for job applications, and experience in teamwork. Traditionally, women are vastly underrepresented at hackathons, but Women in Tech will be doing a big push for female students to attend this year, which will help in the recruitment and retention of women in computer and data science. “The funding will also help us get the word out about our club with materials such as t-shirts,” said Lopez. “We want our events to be bigger and better than ever to help women and allies come together and support one another during their experience here at USF.”

USF and Newmark are committed to supporting gender equality, helping more women become interested in coding early in their educational careers, and fostering an inclusive environment for all women. The positive effects of this commitment can already be seen at USF, where women represent more than 25 percent of all undergraduates in the Computer Science program, with the long-term goal of achieving gender parity in tech.