Thursday, May 02, 2013

Weeding Out?

There was a great story on NPR yesterday about how Harvey Mudd College is addressing the gender gap in Computer Science. I'd nominate their skateboarding president, Maria Klawe, as an educational arsonist

"A lot of universities have this kind of weed-out class," says Kate Finlay, a student at nearby Scripps College who's taking Lewis' course. "The first class you take is a weed-out class, and they are shocked by the fact they don't get any women at the end. But the only people at the end are the people who have been in computer camp since they were 5."
My father told me this happened to him at medical school. And my colleague and fellow instigator, Bryan Willson, said he was told when he started engineering school: "look to your right, look to your left... by the time you graduate, only one of you will be here."

Which got me to thinking... what would the start of a "weed in" program look like. How might a program introduction be more inclusive... and less intimidating. 

A start would be “look to your right, look to your left… these are colleagues… you are responsible to help each other thru the program, which won’t be easy, but will be worth it. Together you will explore what has come before you, and imagine what will come in the future. Then you will build it, together. The history of humankind at its best is not just a history of competition, but of cooperation and collaboration. We value and admire all 3 of these qualities, and by selecting you to be part of our program, we think you do too.”

The next step might be to say “look to your right, look to your left… who is missing? Why? As you embark on your education, remember how fortunate you are to be here, and consider whether you feel you have an obligation to fill another seat by reaching out to help others prepare for their education. We have a multitude of programs where you can work with younger students, mentor…. How will you define success during your academic career? Will it be based on building knowledge in your own head and capability in your own hands? or will it extend to building knowledge and capability in our larger community?”
Hugs would, of course, be optional.

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