A Campus Champion for Women in Computer Science

college-photo_1930._445x280-zmm.jpg

By Ari Levy (Writer, Businessweek) Editor's note: The percentage of female comp sci majors at Harvey Mudd College has tripled since the arrival of President Maria Klawe.

Klawe, 60, (...) arrived in 2006 from Princeton University, where she was dean of the engineering school. On her watch, the percentage of female computer science majors at Mudd, one of California’s prestigious Claremont colleges, has more than tripled, to 42 percent.

Nationally, women account for 14 percent of college graduates in the field, according to the Computing Research Assn.

Klawe’s transformation of this small liberal arts college 35 miles east of Los Angeles has sent ripples from Seattle to Silicon Valley, where startups and technology giants are desperate to find talented developers, even as the unemployment rate hovers above 9 percent. In the U.S., women hold less than 25 percent of jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, according to the Commerce Dept.

Klawe has “actually moved the numbers,” says Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook. “In the midst of what is a very serious employment issue in the country, there’s a field here that’s dying for more very well qualified people.”

Within two years the number of females majoring in computer science rose noticeably, says Zachary Dodds, a professor in the department since 1999.

This year enrollment in what Klawe calls the “most hard-core CS class” —- Data Structures and Program Development -— is at an all-time high of 57 students, 40 percent of them female. Duke University, Northwestern University, and the University of California at Berkeley have borrowed strategies pioneered by Mudd to broaden the appeal of computer science and engineering.

Silicon Valley has noticed. Broadcom (BRCM), the mobile-phone chip company, asked Klawe to join its board in May. Microsoft named her to its board in 2009. She became both companies’ second female board member.

“We need to keep more women interested longer in their lives in STEM subjects,” says Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, acknowledging his own company’s struggle to find women for technical roles and executive positions. Klawe’s work at Harvey Mudd “gives us something good to emulate.”

» Read the full article at Businessweek.