Stanford program aims to help young women develop strong identities as computer scientists and engineers

The Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford has announced plans to create “Seeds of Change,” a program to encourage, support and sustain young women in computer science and engineering as they journey from high school through college and into successful careers in technology.

The program was made possible through a three-year, $1.5 million gift from VMware Inc., an information technology company headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif.

Seeds of Change will equip young women with the knowledge and skills to effectively navigate critical transitions on their academic journey and to be resilient in the face of gender-based obstacles. For example, it would help the high school girl who loved math make the transition to college student majoring in engineering.

SARA JORDAN-BLOCH, director of leadership research and programs at the Clayman Institute, developed Seeds of Change to address a persistent problem: the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles and in certain traditionally defined “masculine” careers.

“We aim to provide young women and girls with a foundation of frameworks, knowledge, and skills so they will be prepared when they encounter gender dynamics,” she said. “We want them to have the tools to recognize and handle those situations and peer networks to draw on for support.”

Research has shown that few girls are encouraged to pursue careers in technology, and young women who do earn degrees in computer science and engineering are far less likely than men to work in technology after graduating.

“Technology has the narrowest pipeline of all the sciences and one of the most alarming rates of departure – from the very careers that are shaping the future of the world,” said CAROLINE SIMARD, senior research director at the Clayman Institute, the nation’s oldest research center focused on gender issues.

Simard said the program will give young women the tools they need to succeed by helping them forge strong identities as computer scientists and engineers.

The Clayman Institute will train undergraduate women in computer science and engineering at Stanford to coach small groups of high school students, who will be divided into “Seeds of Change Circles” of eight to 10 girls.

drawing of Serra House>The Stanford students will lead a comprehensive, nine-month curriculum. The curriculum will introduce participants to a variety of topics, including the mindset of leadership, learning to fail, negotiating for what you want, and the art of persuasive communication.

Simard said the Clayman Institute is uniquely positioned to create the program, because it has studied gender issues related to the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and has worked closely with technology companies.

“We know the foundational skills girls need to consider, enter and stay in these technology fields,” she said. “We know what they will be facing when they enter the workplace, and what skills they will need to thrive in those environments.”

The Seeds of Change program is an initiative of the Clayman Institute’s Center for the Advancement of Women’s Leadership.

The center, which fosters innovative programming based on cutting-edge research and real-world practice, is dedicated to empowering the underrepresented voice of women in academia, industry and government.

VMware Inc., which provides cloud and virtualization software and services, is a founding member of the center’s Corporate Program. PAT GELSINGER, chief executive officer of VMware, earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Stanford in 1985.

This month, the center will begin developing the curriculum for Seeds of Change, including a “train-the-trainer” course for student leaders, an animated video series – of five-minute films – featuring recurring characters and a standard structure, as well as supporting materials. An advisory group will review the materials. This year, the center also will recruit the first cohort of student leaders and pair them with mentors at VMware.

The center will launch the pilot Seeds of Change program in September 2017 with 20 Stanford student leaders and 80-100 local high school students in the ninth through 12th grades. There will be two leaders for each circle. The co-leaders will have access to mentors at VMware. The center will refine the curriculum after evaluating the pilot program.

During the third year, the center will offer the curriculum, including the “train-the-trainer” course, to other computer science and engineering schools at Bay Area universities.