Computer science professor honored

Mary Lou Soffa recognized for her work in software engineering, mentorship

Computer science Prof. Mary Lou Soffa has been recognized with the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Software Engineering Influential Educator Award for “a sustained record of mentoring of women at all ranks in the field of computing, especially software engineering,” according to the SIGSOFT website.

In recent years, the percentage of women earning computer science degrees has increased slightly, but the current percentage is still much lower than ones seen in the 80s and 90s.

Only 14 percent of computer science graduate students at research universities are women.

According to Soffa, the number of jobs available in computer science will increase in the next 10 years, but it is projected only 39 percent of available positions can be filled given the current number computer science students — so more students, men and women, are needed to support advancements in the industry.

But Soffa said the importance of having women in computer science transcends statistics and employment projections.

“Computer science has a large impact on our lives, computing has a large impact, and we would like to have the people who are being impacted actually help design the tools and systems that we need,” Soffa said.

Soffa said she believes mentorship can be an effective strategy for fortifying the role of women in the computer science field.

“Every little success, you don’t have to fawn over it, but you have to say, ‘That’s really good, you’re making good progress,’ so you have to continue in little steps in praising and encouraging what they’ve done,” Soffa said. “Then when they eventually get their first paper published as a graduate student, they are very, very excited.”

The University has a chapter of the Society of Women Engineers exclusively for this purpose — to mentor women and girls interested in science and engineering. SWE is a national non-profit organization which focuses its efforts on introducing young women to engineering, supporting female engineers as they progress through their careers and raising awareness of the importance of having women in the field of engineering. The organization was founded in 1950, after World War II saw more women entering technical positions as men fought abroad.

“SWE on Grounds has several facets to their organization,” second-year Engineering student Maya Singh said. “Part of it is outreach — they try to get younger girls interested in engineering. We, as an organization, bring the girls in engineering together. We also offer workshops for jobs and networking opportunities for women too. It’s a great opportunity to get involved.”

Capital One and Halliburton are among the companies that have come to the organization’s employer networking nights, highlighting the commitment of the organization to finding mentorship opportunities, said second-year Engineering student Megan Grzyb, SWE’s high school outreach chair.

“Starting girls young in attracting them to STEM fields and giving them positive female role models to give them a direct image or somebody to connect with is a very feasible thing to do,” Grzyb said.

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