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Making Computer Science More Enticing

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Employment at the top 10 Silicon Valley companies declined for Hispanics, blacks, and women for the decade ending in 2005, according to a San Jose Mercury News review of federal data. And after the technology bust in the early 2000s, overall enrollment in computer science programs nationwide fell.

Stanford University professor Mehran Sahami responded by revamping the computer science department's curriculum to make it more appealing to students. Stanford consolidated the number of required courses, allowed students to specialize in subfields such as artificial intelligence, and began to count classes such as human computer interaction toward computer science requirements. Enrollment rose 40 percent in the first year, and continued with another 20 percent increase this year.

Sahami believes perceptions of the high-tech economy, such as those about the outsourcing trend and the commodification of jobs, impacts enrollment. And he notes that with the overall decline in enrollment, a larger drop occurred among women, who sense the lessening of the community of female computer science students. "The accelerating effect happens and it creates even more isolation," Sahami says.

View a video of Mehran Sahami finishing his end-of-quarter closing speech to a Stanford Computer Science class.

From The New York Times Online
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