Keeping Girls in Science By Promoting the Value of the Humanities for Tech Majors


BetaBeat asked girls taking computer programming at Stuyvesant High School about their experiences and got some fantastic replies, like this insightful one from Izzi Clark:

I’ve always thought of myself as kind of equally suspended between humanities and math/science, and I think that’s why I found computer science so appealing. Clearly, it involves math and science, but it’s also a language with structure and style. I am still pleasantly surprised when I read a chunk of code and actually understand what it does—the same as when I understood French passages in French class. And writing a program is almost like writing a story (cheesy analogy, I know). There are many ways you can structure it but you have to find the best way, and then when you’re done you have a product that actually does something and you created it. And it’s probably one of the most gratifying feelings in the world.

While repeatedly the girls reference their interest in the humanities, not all of them just plan on merging their liberal arts modes of thinking with their computer science interests and sometimes it’s because of the way they see academic programs set up, as in the case of Victoria Stempel:

 Now that I know about the potenial of comp sci, I am considering taking it in college. However, I do not want to abandon the path I have been interested in pursuing for a long time. Ideally, this would mean double majoring in English and computer science. Unfortunately, some universities with muliple colleges house these two subjects in different schools (ex: UPenn, Binghamton), making double majoring in a liberal arts course and an engineering course almost impossible. Due to this issue, I am very conflicted as to which path to take in life—or even which specific colleges to apply to within larger universities!

Eskeptrical Engineer picked up that repeatedly the girls were stressing that they viewed their interests in humanities as a greater obstacle to their interest in computer science:

I hate that girls (and boys too, for that matter) feel like they have to decide between the humanities/social sciences and STEM. I suspect this partly contributes to why girls don’t see themselves going into science and engineering. Not a single girl featured in this piece said anything about high heels or makeup, but they did talk about their interests in English and art. I strongly believe that not only are the humanities and social sciences compatible with STEM, they can make you better at it. And I say that as an electrical engineer who also did a minor in Communications and spent all of college in various music ensembles.
I don’t mean for this to be exhaustive, but here are some of the ways that a background in other areas can help you as an engineer…

Read the list here. EE covers the value to an electrical engineering career that can be gained from studying Communications, English, Literature, foreign languages, International Relations, Art, Design, Sociology, Psychology, and History.

It strikes me as ironic and distressing that it is precisely girls’ well-roundedness, their desires to engage the world from more than just a techie perspective (rather than from less than one) that is sometimes leading them to split with the sciences when they see their choice as an either/or between science and the humanities. A less specialized academy could be encouraging and actively nurturing their curious and naturally diversifying minds and create overall better scientists and engineers as a result. And EE’s list overlaps between engineering and non-techie majors is a good place to start thinking about how to expand the nature of tech education in a way that both integrates and enhances it with other effective styles of human thinking, to the overall betterment of the students.

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