New class encourages women interest in computer science major


According to the NIU Office of Institutional Research, in 2000, the Department of Computer Sciences had 349 declared majors; 69 women. In 2006, 155 declared majors; eight women.

Those numbers got Computer Sciences professor Georgia Brown and Director of Women’s Studies Amy Levin to create a class formatted to increase women’s interest in computer sciences.

“Studies have shown that women work best in a group setting in a team of three or four. This isn’t for all women, but most. Also, most women learn better in a less competitive environment,” Levin said.

The class, which will be offered in the Spring, is using a method called “pair programming,” which revolves around the research found about women’s learning.

Creating a class specialized for women has received some criticism, Brown said.

Abbey Peppmeyer, senior public health major, could be considered one of those critics.

“I just wouldn’t want to be treated in a special way just because I’m a woman,” Peppmeyer said. “I get why they’re doing it, but I would want to go through class the traditional way.”

But Brown says that’s not the way to look at it.

“It’s not meant to be demeaning,” Brown said, “It’s meant more as a way to encourage women to at least explore the idea,”

Levin also denies that the class insults women.

“It’s based around the way women learn and around the research. That’s not demeaning. That’s like finding the shoes that fit you,” she said.

Another concern for the department is the overall decline in declared majors. Assistant to the Chair, Penny McIntire, thinks many factors play a role.

“I think students heard all the jobs were going to go off-shore, which isn’t true,” McIntire said. “Also, it’s a really tough major and I think some students stayed away because of that.”

Stereotypes of the typical computer programmer may be a factor as well Brown said.

“I do believe there is a general perception that computer programmers are ‘geeks’ and they are in a basement programming all the time,” Brown said.

Brown, who plans to teach the new course (CSCI 205), says everyone, not just women, should ignore the false assumptions about computer sciences.

“Everyone should be aware that this is a great field and I think there are a lot of opportunities for everybody,” Brown said.