Women Thriving in Computer Science at California College


[strɛs] (verb)
– to give special importance to something
e.g.The instructor is stressing the importance of proper form.

[ˈkləstər] (noun)
– a group of things of the same type that grow or appear close together
e.g.There is a cluster of kids around the ball.

[ˌoʊvərˈhɔːl] (verb)
– to completely change a system in order to make it work more effectively
e.g.This year, our company is overhauling its computer network.

[jiːld] (verb)
– to produce or provide something, for example a profit, result or crop
e.g.The deal should yield excellent profits.

[ˌoʊvərˈsiː] (verb)
– to watch somebody/something and make sure that a job or an activity is done correctly
e.g.The foreman will be on site in order to oversee the work.


Women Thriving in Computer Science at California College

In a computer lab at Harvey Mudd College in California, a small robot performs the graceful movements of tai chi, an ancient Chinese meditation exercise. Student Jane Wu writes instruction codes from a nearby computer, showing a visitor a simple form of robotics and artificial intelligence.

Wu is a third-year student in mathematics and computer science at the college, a leader in attracting women to high technology.

Harvey Mudd College, with just 800 students, stresses engineering, and is part of an educational cluster called The Claremont Colleges, in the eastern suburbs of Los Angeles. It was named after a mining engineer who helped to found the school.

The school overhauled its computer science program a decade ago to make the discipline less intimidating to those with little background in computers. The effort has yielded results: last year more than half of the college’s graduates in computer science were women.

The introductory computer class, a requirement for all students, sparked the interest of senior Veronica Rivera, who is majoring in computer science and mathematics.

“It was a very balanced class,” she said, “and I think the professors also do a very good job of making sure everyone feels welcome, regardless of their coding ability.”

Women were prominent coders in the early days of computers when Grace Hopper helped invent programming languages, says Jim Boerkoel, an assistant professor who oversees the robotics lab.

“She [Grace Hopper] is the original coder,” Boerkoel said. “It was only in later decades, the 1980s and 90s, that computer games and the idea of computer programming got heavily marketed toward boys rather than girls.”

At Harvey Mudd, some women who come to study engineering rediscover programming and, each year, dozens attend the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the world’s largest conference of women technologists.

“With coding, I can just have my computer, have some programming language I’m working in, and I can make almost whatever I want,” said computer science major Emilia Reed, who is helping create computer apps to enhance the productivity of workers and students.


1What does the robot programmed by Jane Wu do?
2Who was Harvey Mudd?
3Why did the school change its computer science program more than 10 years ago?
4What does Veronica Rivera think about the introductory computer class she is taking?


1From what you can tell from the article, what do you think about Harvey Mudd College?
2Why do you think that women don’t typically study computer science?
3Do you think that there are any limits to coding? Why or why not?


Advanced Exercises

The following exercises are for an additional lesson.


Please make a short summary of the article that you have just read. (1-2 minutes)

For and Against

Bring arguments first in favor of, and then against the idea that it was a mistake on the part of major companies to market video games mainly towards boys rather than girls. (2-3 minutes each)

Discussion 2

1Do you play video games? Why or why not?
2Would you say that video games can also be used as an educational tool? If so, how?
3Do you think that boys are more interested in playing video games than girls? Why or why not?
4In your opinion, what is the process of developing a video game?
5I have always wished for my computer to be as easy to use as my telephone; my wish has come true because I can no longer figure out how to use my telephone. Bjarne Stroustrup. What do you think about this statement?
6Computer science education cannot make anybody an expert programmer any more than studying brushes and pigment can make somebody an expert painter. Eric S. Raymond. Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?

Video Exercise

Watch the video in the article and answer the following questions.

1Take a look at the video. What do you think about the robot demonstrating tai chi in the beginning of the clip?
2How would you describe Harvey Mudd College?
3Are there any big differences between this college and colleges or universities in your country? If so, what are they?
4How would you describe the professors featured in the video?

Quoted from VOA:

*The present article might have been slightly altered to suit the purpose of English study.
*The original article is subject to deletion or changes by the publisher.