The University Network

Cornell Program Recruiting Women To Computer Science Expands Nationally

The tech field may soon become more diverse, as a successful Cornell Tech program to propel women into computer science careers is expanding nationally. 

The program, originally called Women in Technology & Entrepreneurship in New York (WiTNY), started in 2016 as a partnership between Cornell Tech and the City University of New York (CUNY) — a collegiate system comprising 25 institutions across New York City, with an enrollment of more than 275,000 students.

In just a few short years, the program helped increase the number of women graduating with bachelor’s degrees in computer science from CUNY by 94 percent. 

“Year after year, WiTNY has made progress getting women at CUNY, the largest and most diverse urban public college system in the country, to pursue degrees and careers in tech,” Judith Spitz, executive director of Cornell Tech’s Break Through Tech initiative, said in a news release. “So many of the students we work with never thought the tech industry had a place for them, and the program has been transformational in their lives.”

With the expansion, the program will now be known as Break Through Tech, and it will first be replicated at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) as part of the Gender Equality in Tech (GET) Cities initiative funded by in part by Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company founded by Melinda Gates. 

“It’s critical that students from all backgrounds are equipped with the technological skills needed to tackle the world’s problems,” Greg Morrisett, the Jack and Rilla Neafsey Dean and Vice Provost of Cornell Tech, said in the release. “The Break Through Tech initiative is an incredible model that has already made a huge impact in New York and will do so around the country.”

In Chicago — and all the cities to come — Break Through Tech will use the same strategies that worked in New York. 

Starting in May, UIC students will have the opportunity to enroll in introductory computer science courses and workshops that will teach them how to code and emphasize real-world applications of technology. 

During winter breaks, freshman and sophomore women (and other eligible students) studying computer science will have the opportunity to participate in a three-week, paid “winternships,” which will give them resume credentials and real-world experience that could increase their chances of landing a job after graduation.

Additionally, the program is geared to build communities of women in computer science, which fosters a sense of belonging and, in turn, helps the women stay motivated. 

UIC was chosen, in part, due to the rapid growth of its computer science department, which has grown from 187 undergraduate students to more than 1,400 over the past 15 years.

“This partnership is an opportunity for the UIC College of Engineering to help change the face of computer science and tech in Chicago and nationally,” Robert Sloan, professor and head of computer science at the UIC College of Engineering, said in the release. 

Starting in Chicago and growing throughout the United States, GET Cities will also see the development of inclusive tech hubs, where startup technology companies can innovate and grow. 

Support for the Break Through Tech program also comes from Cognizant U.S. Foundation and Verizon. 

“In expanding to tech hubs nationally, we believe that Break Through Tech will propel women and give them critical access to impactful careers in tech,” Kristen Titus, executive director of the Cognizant U.S. Foundation, said in the release. 

At this point, the number of women attending college is at an all-time high, but the percentage of women who graduate with degrees in tech-related disciplines is less than 1 percent. And over the past 20 years, the share of computer science degrees awarded to women has declined steeply — from 37 percent to 18 percent. 

Clearly, for the sake of diversity in the workplace, more women need to be encouraged to enter computer science and other tech-related fields. 

And, from an employment standpoint, they’d be wise to do so. By 2026, computing-related jobs are expected to reach 3.5 million.