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<< Back to September 2004 CRN Table of Contents

[Published originally in the September 2004 edition of Computing Research News, Vol. 16/No. 4]

President Honors CRA-W for Mentoring Efforts

By Jan Cuny, Carla Ellis, and Mary Jean Harrold

President George W. Bush, on May 6, 2004, awarded the Computing Research Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W) a 2004 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM) for “significant achievements in mentoring women across educational levels.” Past CRA-W Co-Chair Dr. Jan Cuny and current Co-Chair Dr. Mary Jean Harrold participated in the awards event, which consisted of the PAESMEM Awards Ceremony and the PAESMEM Symposium.

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John H. Marburger, III presented Drs. Cuny and Harrold with the citation at a ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. CRA-W was one of just eight institutional winners of the annual award, given to those organizations identified as “exemplars” and leaders in the national effort to more fully develop the Nation's human resources in science, mathematics, and engineering. The award cites CRA-W’s work providing “hands-on research experiences, mentoring, role models and information exchange to women pursuing careers in [the] field.” A message from the President, read by Marburger, noted that new technology was redefining the American workplace and that, “in order to stay on the leading edge we must insure the participation of people from diverse backgrounds and experiences.” More information about the PAESMEM program is available at

Several “friends of CRA-W” joined Drs. Cuny and Harrold at the Awards ceremony: Dr. Peter Freeman, Assistant Director of the NSF for CISE; Peter Harsha, Director of Government Affairs, CRA; Dr. Maria Klawe, Dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science, Princeton University and a CRA-W co-founder; Sarah Revi Sterling, University Relations, Microsoft, Inc.; and Dr. Caroline Wardle, Senior Science Advisor, Education and Workforce Cluster, NSF. The Awards Ceremony was followed by a reception in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

The PAESMEM Symposium, held on the following day at Decatur House, gave award recipients the opportunity to meet and discuss their programs. Dr. Cuny presented the CRA-W programs, focusing on a range of mentoring activities: the Distributed Mentoring (DMP) and Collaborative Research Experiences for Undergraduates (CREU) programs for undergraduates, the Grad Cohort Program for new graduate students, the Career Mentoring Workshops for women making the transition to faculty positions, and the Cohort for Associate Professors Project (CAPP) for more senior women moving into leadership positions.

The DMP has provided undergraduate research experiences since 1994. It aims to increase the number of women entering Computer Science and Engineering (CS&E) graduate programs, building a cadre of women who will become visible leaders in their professional and academic careers and who will provide role models for future generations. The DMP matches outstanding female undergraduates with female faculty mentors for a summer of research at the mentor’s institution. Students “try on” research and graduate life, and they benefit from a close mentoring relationship.

An independent, longitudinal evaluation in 1999 found that more than 50 percent of the DMP students who had graduated had already advanced to graduate school, and an even higher percentage of those who had not yet graduated were planning to advance. (In comparison, a 1994 Baccalaureate and Beyond study found that only 3 percent of females in CS with similar GPAs were in graduate school within a year after graduation.) The DMP draws from a large pool of students, many of whom have no other access to undergraduate research opportunities and only limited access to female role models. The program is so successful that it has been extended to an Affiliate DMP that provides some of the same benefits to students already paired with researchers at their home institution. The DMP is a popular program, with increasing numbers of applications from both students and mentors. Additional information is available at

CRA-W, together with the Coalition to Diversify Computing, now runs a second undergraduate mentoring program, CREU, aimed at increasing graduate school participation by both women and minorities. Many students are put off by the stereotype of the computer scientist as a lone programmer, toiling away in a cubicle with little human contact. In reality, though, most computer science research is done by groups of people working together to solve a problem. To expose students to the energizing interactions of group projects, CREU supports teams of undergraduates pursuing joint research during the academic year at their home institution.

CREU teams provide participants with peer communities, close mentoring relationships, and hands-on research experience. According to an independent evaluation, students gain a broader understanding of computing, a stronger confidence in their own abilities, a decreased sense of isolation within their field, and an increased interest in pursuing similar work in graduate school. We hope to support 100 research teams (250 students) each year. More information on CREU is available at

This year CRA-W extended its mentoring activities to incoming graduate students with the Grad Cohort Program that aims to build and mentor a nationwide community of women through their graduate studies. The program begins with a two-day mentoring workshop for entering students. At the workshop, a number of prominent senior women act as role models, give practical advice and information, and provide personal insights on the challenges and rewards of their careers. Students make contacts and form peer networks that provide ongoing support for them over the course of the year. We hope to support their efforts with e-mail discussion lists, virtual on-line workshops, regional mini-conferences, and regular face-to-face meetings. Each fall, established cohorts will return to the mentoring workshop to get advice on the later stages of graduate school and to provide peer mentoring to the newest cohort. This year’s Cohort program had more than twice as many applicants as could be accepted! See for more information.

To assist students making the transition to academic careers, CRA-W has sponsored a very successful series of Career Mentoring Workshops since 1993. Women often find themselves a minority in their own departments, and the workshops bring them together with women already established in their fields who provide practical information, advice, and support. Typical sessions focus on getting a job, building a research career, networking, getting tenure, and managing career/family life. The workshops are associated with major professional meetings, providing attendees with the opportunity to hear technical talks and make contacts in their research areas. The workshops have been widely emulated. CRA-W now regularly runs a second version for faculty at the smaller schools, and a number of conferences have sponsored their own, shorter versions. Most importantly, in years that CRA-W is not running its workshop, the Computing Research Association now runs the workshop for both men and women. Many CSE departments routinely send all new faculty members to one of these workshops. Thus, CRA-W has changed the way departments support and mentor new faculty. More on the workshops, including a booklet with advice compiled from many of the speakers, is available at

CRA-W’s newest mentoring program, CAPP, targets the senior end of the academic pipeline, aiming to build a cohort of associate professors ready to move into leadership positions in the professional community. The program provides mentoring by a group of twelve very Distinguished CRA-W Professors, in addition to leadership training, encouragement, and ongoing peer-support activities. Key components of the program include a Professional Development Seminar, a series of smaller meetings in conjunction with technical conferences/seminars, and ongoing electronically based support activities.

Even though CRA-W programs have a proven track record of success in helping individual women advance through the stages of the research pipeline, there remains much to be done. We need to significantly scale up our efforts in order to achieve the goal of increasing the representation of women who can contribute to the CS&E research community. The problem is serious: unlike other sciences such as biology or chemistry, CS&E has failed to significantly increase the proportion of women among its Ph.D. graduates. Although female students are now the majority in high school advanced math classes, this source of talent is being lost at the undergraduate and graduate level to other sciences. This failure to exploit the experiences and perspectives of these talented women represents an opportunity cost for innovation in CS&E.

YOU CAN HELP! Any institution whose future depends on technical innovation in CS&E should become our partner in achieving CRA-W’s goal. We are asking all CRA members to help. What can you do? To effect true change in the diversity of the research community, CRA-W needs sustained funding for our ongoing, long-term programs that have been proven to work. We are grateful for the support of past contributors, including NSF, Microsoft Research, Lucent Technologies, USENIX, ACM SIGs, AAAI, and the Luce Foundation. Please, help us find additional financial resources to sustain and scale up our programs! Beyond direct funding, CRA members can contribute by encouraging their women students, faculty (both male and female), and researchers to participate in CRA-W programs, and supporting and rewarding them when they do. You can share in CRA-W’s future accomplishments.

Jan Cuny, University of Oregon, is CRA’s Vice Chair and former Co-Chair of CRA-W. Carla Ellis (Duke University) and Mary Jean Harrold (Georgia Institute of Technology) are the Co-Chairs of CRA-W and CRA board members.


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