50 Percent Initiative
The high-tech industry is suffering from a shortage of top technical talent and a significant lack of diversity. To address these problems, Calvin's CS Department and its Strategic Partners Council have created the 50 Percent Initiative, a corporate sponsorship program that seeks to change the face and future of our industry by increasing the number of women who earn computer science degrees. This program will address the talent shortage by equipping increasing numbers of (female) students with advanced computing skills, and at the same time address a social problem, namely the underrepresentation of women in the tech sector. Our initiative uses proven tactics to recruit and retain female computer science majors, but we cannot do it alone; we need your help. Please consider how you can partner with us to make this program a success.
Other schools have identified two effective strategies for addressing these problems:
- Special scholarships for female CS majors, to encourage young women to enter the CS pipeline.
- Attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC, see videos here and here), to encourage young women to remain in the CS pipeline until they graduate.
Using similar strategies, two colleges – Harvey Mudd College in California and Colby College in Maine – have significantly raised their percentages of female CS majors. Both colleges report that attending the GHC conference is key to retaining young CS women.
The GHC conference encourages young women to persevere through their male-dominated CS classes by: (i) presenting them with high-profile role models like Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, (ii) letting them mix, mingle, and network with thousands of other CS women, and (iii) forewarning them about and preparing them to deal with confidence-draining problems that female CS students frequently encounter, such as misogyny, stereotype threat, the imposter syndrome, and others. The GHC conference thus motivates women to persevere, succeed, and ultimately thrive in CS.
The 50 Percent Initiative is a program by Calvin's CS department and its Strategic Partners Council that aims to attract qualified women to computer science and remove artificial barriers to their success. Through this program, we will enable these women to participate in and contribute their talents to the hi-tech industry. Ultimately, we hope that this will lead to women being represented in the hi-tech industry at levels proportional to their representation in the general population.
To achieve these goals, we seek partners willing to sponsor our female CS majors at the Platinum, Gold, Silver, Diamond, Ruby, or Emerald levels, shown below:
Frequently Asked Questions
- Are first-year students eligible for scholarships?
Yes. Since part of the strategy is to attract young women to CS, scholarships will be offered to prospective students as part of their financial aid packages.
- Can a student receive a scholarship more than once?
Yes. All scholarships will be for one year, and students can reapply each year.
- Can a company have input into the application process?
Yes, after a student’s first year at Calvin. The CS department will award scholarships to first year students, based on their high school performance and reference letters. A high school student's reference letters will normally be from her high school teachers.
If a first-year student's mentor wants to support her again in subsequent years, her mentor may provide a reference letter to strengthen her application when she reapplies for her sophomore, junior, and/or senior year scholarship. If the student and mentor both agree to continue together, the department will generally match them again.
- What are the criteria for the scholarships?
These scholarships will be offered to young women with a high school GPA of 3.5 or better, who intend to major in computer science. To remain eligible for the scholarship, she must continue in the CS major and maintain a Calvin GPA of 3.2 or better.
- How will young women hear about these scholarships (especially HS students)? How will they be publicized?
These scholarships will be publicized in a variety of ways, including:
- Information about these scholarships will be distributed at local outreach efforts for women, such as BitCamp, Girls Who Code, and similar efforts.
- Calvin’s CS department conducts several outreach efforts in which young women participate, including its Imaginary Worlds Camps (each July), its TECreate Club (every other Saturday morning), and its Girls Who Code chapter (every Monday night). The young women who attend these sessions will be encouraged to apply for these scholarships.
- These scholarships will be listed on Calvin's CS department’s Scholarships and Awards page.
- Each winter, the CS department holds a “phone party” in which our faculty members call prospective students. During these calls, female prospective students will be informed of and especially encouraged to apply for these scholarships.
- Calvin’s Admissions Department employs many admissions counselors who visit high schools around the country. These counselors will identify and inform promising young women about this opportunity.
- Many young women arrive at Calvin undecided as to a major. We can easily send these women a letter encouraging them to take our introductory CS course, with the offer of a scholarship for those who pursue a CS major.
- How will the GHC conference grants work?
Our goal is for each female CS major to attend the GHC conference at least once and ideally twice: first as a sophomore and again as a senior. While it would be nice to send first-year students, the GHC conference takes place each October, and registration for it closes in early August – before first-year students arrive at Calvin.
The GHC conference grant funds will therefore be placed in a special escrow account to pay a student’s way to attend the GHC conference after her first year. Funds permitting, this will be in her second and fourth years.
- Do Platinum and Diamond sponsors have the same student throughout her college career or does the student change annually (for mentoring/shadowing)?
We can be flexible (see #3 above). Platinum and Diamond sponsors are committing their support for four years, so they may want to build a relationship with one student. However, they may instead wish to support two students for two years each, or a different student each of the four years, or something else.
- What is the overall financial commitment for a company or individual
This depends on the sponsorship level. See the table of sponsorship levels.
- Can a company have further opportunities to engage with students, such as giving talks, hosting tours, etc.?
Absolutely! We welcome outside speakers to our Tuesday afternoon colloquium series; many of these speakers are from local companies; in recent years, we have hosted speakers from EPIC, Google, Steelcase, TechSmith, X-Rite, and other organizations. We also schedule a “field trip” each year, in which our students visit and tour local businesses; in recent years, we have visited CQL, Open Systems Technologies, and Mutually Human.
- What commitment is required from a mentor?
We would ask a mentor to meet with her mentee at least once per month (e.g., over lunch or coffee), to build an effective mentoring relationship. A mentor might also take her mentee to local industry events (e.g., user-group meetings), or even the Grace Hopper Celebration!
- Must a mentor be female?
Ideally yes, as the mentor will serve as a role model and will be asked questions about her experiences and career as a female technologist.
However, a male mentor may be an option in extenuating circumstances (e.g., the company has no female technologists and is motivated to change this).
- When does the internship take place? Is it required?
Internships can take place at any point after a student's first year at Calvin. From a company's perspective, the ideal time is probably the summer between a student's third and fourth year, as she will have three years of experience she can apply to a company's problems. However from a student's perspective, a positive summer internship after her first or second year can help a young woman confirm that her decision to study computer science was a good one.
The internship is not a rigid requirement, either for a sponsoring company or for a student being sponsored, but students will be encouraged to pursue internship opportunities at their sponsoring company.
- How many CS majors are there at Calvin? What percentage of them are women?
There are currently about 100 CS majors at Calvin; about 15% are women.
- Is this initiative sustainable?
We believe so. There is some evidence that with careful planning, programs like this one can become self-sustaining once the percentage of female CS majors surpasses 35%.
To help us get there, young women who receive scholarships will be strongly encouraged to “pay it forward” by participating in local computing-related service opportunities, such as BitCamp, Girls Who Code, and so on. We will also encourage these young women to "pay it back" by becoming mentors and/or sponsors themselves, five years after they graduate.
Through these service activities, the women who benefit from this initiative will themselves become role models for the next generation of young women, helping to build momentum and (eventually) sustainability for this program.
- Why Calvin and not some other school?
For several reasons, including:
- Calvin’s mission is undergraduate education. Our professors are passionate and fully focused on bachelors-level education, not graduate-level training.
- Calvin’s BCS degree was the first ABET-accredited CS program in west Michigan, and was the first to be offered by any Christian college, anywhere.
- Calvin has an outstanding CS program. As evidence, all Calvin CS seniors take ETS’s Computer Science Major Field Test (CS-MFT), a nationally normed test of computer science knowledge.
– Calvin's top-scoring senior usually scores above the 99th percentile, and twice in the last decade, Calvin's top senior has earned a perfect score, which is exceedingly rare, especially considering Calvin graduates only 10-20 CS majors each year.
– In all but one year since 2007, Calvin’s median senior has scored above the 95th percentile. Put differently, Calvin’s “middle” senior usually scores in the top 5% nationwide.
– In the majority of these years, Calvin’s lowest-scoring senior has scored above the 54th percentile. Put differently, all of our students score above the national average most years.
These are remarkable accomplishments, since almost none of our students arrive at Calvin with any prior computer science experience. These CS-MFT scores thus reflect what our students have learned during their four years at Calvin.
- Calvin is a Christian comprehensive liberal arts college, meaning its alumni receive an excellent technical education, a liberal arts general education, and a strong ethical sense and work ethic firmly grounded in the Christian virtues. Our graduates have gone on to take leadership roles at companies like Amazon, Boeing, Cisco, Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and Yahoo, as well as many companies here in the Midwest.
- Calvin is launching this program. As a small college, Calvin is nimble enough to create this program and make changes as necessary to make it a success.
- Calvin's CS department has an outstanding faculty, all of whom are committed to support this initiative. Two of them are professors Joel Adams and Serita Nelesen:
– Dr. Adams chairs Calvin's CS department, and is the only professor in the state of Michigan (and one of just 23 in the world) recognized as a Distinguished Educator by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) – the professional organization for computer scientists.
– Dr. Nelesen is a member of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), and is already mentoring Calvin’s female CS students.
- Calvin's CS department has an established track record of reaching out to young women. Examples include:
– Each summer since 2004, Calvin's CS department has offered the Imaginary Worlds Camps – summer computing animation camps to introduce young women to computational thinking.
– Calvin's CS department was the first in west Michigan to sponsor a Girls Who Code chapter.
Our 50 Percent Initiative will make the many strengths of Calvin’s CS program affordable to increasing numbers of women. As these women graduate, they will move into entry-level (and eventually leadership) positions, helping to alleviate the shortage of technical talent and improving gender diversity within the industry.
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