In 2005, the faculty of the computer science department at Harvey Mudd College reviewed its statistics on gender matriculation. A long-time goal of the department had been to increase the number and proportion of women studying computer science at the school. To their consternation, they discovered that the number of women declaring computer science majors was declining. The case describes the steps the faculty took to redesign their core introductory course as well as the follow-up study that revealed a dramatic, sustainable increase in women’s engagement: Harvey Mudd College raised the percentage of women computer science majors to over 50% in less than ten years. The case discusses the transformation of the culture and pedagogy—as well as specific actions taken by the faculty and school leadership—that fomented this change. The focus on the computer science program is set against the broader backdrop of Harvey Mudd College’s efforts to attract and retain women students generally.
The case was designed to foster classroom discussion on the barriers to increasing diversity and gender equity within STEM programs as well as a diagnosis of the approach taken by Harvey Mudd College. Students are asked to consider whether Harvey Mudd College’s approach is replicable and if so, under what conditions.