Leading the Way: Girls, Technology and Education

April 19, McConomy Auditorium, University Center, Carnegie Mellon University

On April 19th, Women@SCS presented the first of what is hoped to be an annual series of forums on girls and technology in education and entertainment. The event successfully brought together more than 160 teachers, academics, students, and members of the business community for a full afternoon of talks and brainstorming. Together, the group that was present discussed topics ranging from girl-friendly classroom strategies, to software game development and beyond.

The goal of the event was fourfold:

  1. To provide a comprehensive overview of girls' relationship with technology in education, entertainment and the home.
  2. To explore new technologies that more accurately reflect girls' interests and needs.
  3. To discuss how these technologies can be made more available to girls, including those in disadvantaged situations.
  4. To create opportunities in which girls can influence the development of new technology, both for themselves and for society at large.
This forum was funded in part by grants from Carnegie Mellon University President's Office, the School of Computer Science Office of External Relations, and the Heinz Foundation.


Forum Summary

Dr. Lenore Blum opened the forum by situating the event in its historical context. Many efforts for gender equity in the classroom, she reminded us, began with Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments, which prohibited sex discrimination in any education program or athletic activity receiving federal funds. Nearly thirty years later, the growing success of women, perhaps most visibly in sports, attests to the progress we've made. However, despite these strides, women remain underrepresented in many technical fields. It is this continued imbalance which motivated the development of this forum.

Sonya Allin then described the process of putting the forum together with the help of Women@SCS and support of the CMU community.

The first speakers of the forum were Dr. Jane Margolis and Dr. Allan Fisher, whose pivotal research project right here at CMU highlighted the different ways in which young men and women view their relationships to computers and technology. Their talk outlined the scope of this research and its impact, and was effectively illustrated by excerpts from student interviews collected over the course of several years. Many of the issues highlighted by their work have since been, and continue to be, addressed by the CMU administration and faculty of SCS. These efforts have contributed to the recent dramatic rise in the number of women in the undergraduate computer science program at CMU.

Dr. Maria Klawe, whose talk followed, has also championed equity in education through the development of interactive tutors that are responsive to girls' interests and needs. She described her work with the E-GEMS project at the University of British Columbia, which uses multi-media stories and games to teach mathematical concepts. This format has been shown to be very effective at engaging young girls and inspiring them to develop their mathematical problem solving skills. Dr. Klawe then surprised the participants with a juggling tutorial, followed by an attempt to teach a graduate student volunteer some basic juggling skills. Learning math, she explained, is much like juggling: at first glance it seems very difficult, but it is actually quite easy to learn with a good instructor who can help you break the learning task down into smaller chunks. Both are acquired skills requiring a little patience and lots of practice.

Finally, equitable access to technology in the video game industry was addressed by Megan Gaiser, CEO of Her Interactive, and Robert Riedl, Her Interactive's Director of Product Development. Gaming has historically addressed a male audience; however, Her Interactive's Nancy Drew games are successfully carving a niche in the industry by targeting girls and young women. Ms. Gaiser and Mr. Riedl outlined the difficulties and challenges inherent in gender-sensitive technology development and marketing. In particular, they emphasized the importance of seeking feedback from their target customers throughout the development process.

The finale of the forum was a lively panel session in which panelists offered their perspectives on a variety of questions from the audience. Together, the panelists discussed their experiences with technology, how best to get young girls interested in computing, as well as techniques for teaching technological principles in classrooms that are not wired. The panel session left everyone wanting more.

For Women@SCS, the event was a great success. The forum brought together members of the corporate, research, and educational realms in a meaningful discussion pertaining to girls' educational future, and helped sew seeds for future projects, discussions, and practical change. Moreover, it provided Women@SCS with a good deal of visibility. Two members of women@SCS sat on the panel, and others introduced the speakers and panelists. Their presence and contribution served to remind us of women's impact on the world of technology.

Speaker Biographies and Talk Abstracts

  • Dr. Maria Klawe, Dean of Science, University of British Columbia

  • At the University of British Columbia, Maria Klawe holds the NSERC-IBM Chair for Women in Science and Engineering, a chair that focuses on research aimed at increasing the participation of women in information technology. Maria is also the founder and director of the E-GEMS project, a collaborative project involving computer scientists, mathematics educators, teachers, children and game developers. The E-GEMS project involves research on the design and use of computer games that enhance mathematics education for grades 4 to 9.

    Design and Use of Girl-Friendly Computer Games for Math Education
    What happens when a team of people decide to create computer games that are fun for girls aged 10-14 to play, and that help them to learn and like math? This talk tells the story of the creation and evolution of Phoenix Quest, one of the most popular games developed in the E-GEMS research project.

  • Dr. Jane Margolis, Researcher, UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies

  • From 1994-1999, Jane Margolis, a social scientist and expert in gender equity in education, studied the gender gap in the Carnegie Mellon undergraduate computer science program with Allan Fisher. This research is the subject of their forthcoming book, titled "Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing", to be published by MIT Press. Currently, Jane is studying the underrepresentation of minority high school students in computer science on a project funded by the National Science Foundation.

    Allan Fisher, President and CEO, Carnegie Technology Education
    Prior to his present position, Allan Fisher was Associate Dean for Undergraduate Computer Science Education at Carnegie Mellon. In collaboration with Jane Margolis, he spearheaded an intensive effort to understand and change the representation of women in the undergraduate CS program. In large part due to their research (funded by the Sloan Foundation), to proactive work with high school teachers of AP computer science (funded by the NSF), and an admissions policy aimed at identifying potential visionaries in the field, the proportion of women entering the undergraduate program rose from 8% to 37% during the years 1995-2000. (See: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~gendergap)

    Unlocking the Clubhouse: Four Years of Research on the CMU Computer Science Gender Gap
    Why are so few women learning how to design and invent the computer technology? From 1995 to 1999, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, we conducted more than 230 interviews with male and female CMU computer science students. Our goal was to better understand women's decisions to study (and not study), to persist (and not persist) in computer science, and to devise effective interventions to bridge the gender gap. Our research team interviewed students when they arrived at the university, and revisited many of them every semester as they made their way through college. We discovered how computing very early becomes claimed as male territory, how girls interest is too often extinguished, and how education at all levels typically continues the male claim. Through our investigation we explored alternative curriculum and pedagogy that have a greater chance of sparking and holding girls' and women's interest and confidence. Our research has informed examinations of the computer science gender gap nationwide. In this talk, we will present our major findings.

  • Megan Gaiser, President and Executive Producer, Her Interactive

  • Megan Gaiser has over 10 years experience in the film, video and multimedia industries. She joined Her Interactive, home of Nancy Drew interactive games, in 1997. Seattle-based Her Interactive designs, develops, and markets award-winning interactive games for girls ages 10 and up. It leads the industry in creating computer games that expand a girl's choices, computer skills, and mind.

    Robert Riedl, Director of Product Development, Her Interactive
    Robert Riedl supervises the development, production and testing of Her Interactive's CD-ROM and online products, including all of the Nancy Drew titles. His background is in Information Services.

    Interactive Entertainment Dovetails with Girls' Education in Technology"
    As pioneers in the "games for girls" industry, our talk will concentrate on lessons we have learned along the way. Special emphasis will be given to an examination of the state of the industry relative to girls and women (including results of our own research). It is intended that educators and content providers can apply these lessons to address the technological gap between genders.


Carnegie Mellon faculty, students and alumnae as well as representatives from the wider community.
  • Judy Gordon

  • Judy Gordon is a Senior Program Associate at Girls Count, a national organization (based in Denver, Colorado) that teaches adults to positively impact girls' lives. Her specialty is product development and training. She is editor and author of numerous Girls Count publications and is manager of Girls Count's Web site. Girls Count's product development is currently focused on the 10 Success Skills for Girls TM, a listing of skills that Girls Count has identified as essential for girls to develop in order to be economically successful as adults in a technological world. Girls Count's audiences are parents, educators, mentors, youth program leaders, and all other adults in girls' lives.

  • Donald Marinelli

  • Donald Marinelli is a Professor of Drama and Arts Management here at Carnegie Mellon University. He is also the Co-Director of the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), a joint initiative between the School of Computer Science and the College of Fine Arts, specializing in all manner of digital arts and entertainment. Professor Marinelli was for fourteen years the Associate Head of Drama where he was instrumental in the establishment of the Master of Arts management program, the Master of Fine Arts in Acting program with the Moscow Art Theatre School of Russia, and (along with ETC Co-director Randy Pausch) the new Master of Entertainment Technology degree program.

  • Peggy Stubbs

  • Margaret L. (Peggy) Stubbs holds a Ph.D. in Social and Developmental Psychology from Brandeis University. She is currently the Project Coordinator for Girls, Math and Science, a regional communications and outreach program designed to enhance the interest and successful participation of 4th through 8th grade girls in math and science. Peggy is a former research associate at the Wellesley Centers for Research in Women and was the first director of Women's Studies at the University of Maine at Farmington. She has taught as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology at Chatham College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Peggy is a writer with numerous publications, and regularly consults to schools and other organizations on topics related to adolescent or women's development, gender equity, and death and dying.

  • Hilary Packer

  • Hilary Packer is a Carnegie Mellon University Alumna. She received a Masters in Software Engineering in December 1994. Since then, she has been creating software for equity derivatives traders for various Wall Street banks. Presently, Hilary is a Director of Equity Derivatives Technology at Deutsche Bank. Hilary received a BS in computer science from the University of Michigan in 1991 and has been an active member of the Computer Science Alumnae of Michigan (CSAM) since 1995. CSAM encourages and supports women pursuing undergraduate degrees in computing by funding a scholarship and mentoring women at the University of Michigan.

  • Leah Miller

  • Leah Miller is a junior Computer Science major at Carnegie Mellon. She has helped organize and construct the Living LEGO City with local children and is a leading member of the Women@SCS Advisory Council. Her interests include technology in children's education, the use of computer science and technology to affect social change, and studying and improving factors that contribute to the changing role of women in science and engineering.

  • Allison Bruce

  • Allison Bruce is a first year Ph.D. student in the Robotics department of Carnegie Mellon University. She led a team of women students from the School of Computer Science at the Expanding Your Horizons Conference, where they presented two workshops titled "Is There A Robot in Your Future?". Allison is a graduate representative on the Women@SCS advisory council.

  • Tucker Balch

  • Tucker Balch is a Research Scientist and Associate Director of the MultiRobot Lab at Carnegie Mellon University. Dr. Balch is interested in all challenges involved in deploying reliable, large scale multi-robot and multi-agent systems. He is the Associate Chair for Robotics of the 2001 RoboCup Robot World Cup and General Chair of the 2001 AAAI Mobile Robot Competition. Dr. Balch is involved in the development of an educational robotics system called TeamBots Jr. that will enable kids to program simulated soccer robots on their home computers. Dr. Balch is also actively involved in robotics education efforts in the School of Computer Science at CMU. He is one of the co-founders of the Office of Robotics Education, a resource to help students, parents, and teachers with interest in using robots for education establish connections and find information about existing programs.

  • Latanya Sweeney

  • Latanya Sweeney is Assistant Professor of computer science in Carnegie Mellon's Center for Automated Learning and Discovery (CALD) in the School of Computer Science, as well as Assistant Professor of public policy in the H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management. Professor Sweeney's research focuses on the problems of maintaining privacy and confidentiality in computerized data. She also works on policy issues, assisting with the World Wide Web Consortium on establishing privacy policies for the Internet, among other projects. Professor Sweeney's initial undergraduate computer science study was at MIT in 1977. She left to become CEO and President of a computer company, where she worked for ten years. She then earned an A.L.B. in computer science from Harvard, and both the S.M. and Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT.


  • Lenore Blum

  • Lenore Blum (Ph.D., M.I.T.) is Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. She is an internationally renowned mathematician and computer scientist. Blum is a former vice-president of the American Mathematical Society and former president of the Association for Women in Mathematics. Blum founded the Mathematics and Computer Science Department at Mills College where she was awarded the first Letts-Villard Chair and an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Blum was also a member of the International Computer Science research team, Deputy Director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, and spent 2 years as visiting professor at the City University of Hong Kong collaborating on her research and book "Complexity and Real Computation". Blum has been widely recognized as a champion for women and girls in mathematics. She was instrumental in founding the Math/Science Network which now sponsors nationwide the annual "Expanding Your Horizons" conferences dedicated to increasing the participation of girls and women in mathematics and science. Here at CMU Blum is also the Faculty advisor to Women@SCS which promotes social and professional interaction among undergraduate and graduate women in the School of Computer Science.

  • Sonya Allin

  • Sonya Allin is a first year Ph.D. student in the Human Computer Interaction Institute whose current research revolves around the creation of rehabilitation strategies and technologies for victims of stroke. Prior to her arrival at CMU, she worked as the Technical Lead for gURL.com, a community web-site for teenaged girls, and as a children's instructor at Playing To Win, a community technology center in Harlem, New York.

  • Ting-Chih (Ting) Shih

  • Ting Shih is a senior Computer Science major at Carnegie Mellon University. Her primary interest is in improving education, tailoring it to the needs of different individuals, especially in the area of technical training. Currently, she is working on a thesis research project exploring methods to bridge the gender gap in computer science education. She works closely with students as an academic counselor, designing methods to improve their studying skills and efficiency. She is an active member of the Women@SCS Advisory Council and the lead webmaster for their web site.

GTE Organizing Committee

From Women@SCS:
  • Sonya Allin (Ph.D. student, HCII)
  • Allison Bruce (Ph.D. student, Robotics)
  • Bernardine Dias (Ph.D. student, Robotics)
  • Laurie Hiyakumoto (Ph.D. student, Computer Science)
  • Lisa Joyce (Masters student, HCI)
  • Grace Ritter (Masters student, SEI)
  • Lydia Choy (CS Senior)
  • Maayan Roth (CS Senior)
  • Ting-Chih Shih (CS Senior)
  • Leah Miller (CS Junior)
  • Gail Ronen (CS Sophomore)
  • Indrani Mondal (CS Freshman)
  • Lenore Blum (Faculty Advisor)
  • Carol Frieze (Women@SCS Program Associate)
  • Heidi Kumao (Art/Design)
From the SCS External Relations Office:
  • Tina Carr (External Relations Coordinator)
  • Matt Hughes (Director of Development)
  • Barbara Pearson (Associate Dean for External Relations)
  • Anne Watzman (Director of Public Relations)
  • Catherine Copetas (Assistant Dean, Industrial/Alumni Relations)