Attracting women into science and technology has been challenging, but a new program at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar is taking steps to mend female underrepresentation in computer science. In this effort, the university hosted CS4Qatar for Women, an outreach program that aims to introduce young women to computer science and explore career possibilities in the field.
"Overall, the purpose of CS4Qatar is to change social perspectives on computing as a profession – to push for it to be considered on equal footing with what are considered more traditional career routes. Qatar aims to become a knowledge-based economy and it cannot do so without having a clear understanding of computer sciences. Carnegie Mellon is taking these measures to spread awareness about this economically vital domain," said Khaled Harras, computer science professor.
More than 90 female high-school students from schools across Qatar attended the event - consisting of a panel discussion session and two hands-on sessions: one on programming with Alice (an object-based, 3-D graphics-creating tool) and the other on puzzles and problem solving.
Speaking about her experiences in the field, panelist Reem Al Mansoori, development manager at ICT Qatar said, "Computer science is an exciting subject. Working at ictQATAR provided me with a great opportunity to contribute to Qatari society and play a significant role in taking a fast-developing nation forward. Moreover, as a practice, it presents you with a plethora of opportunities. The applications of the field are boundless."
"Women play a vital role in this field. Technology has removed many cultural barriers. Opportunities that were limited in the past, have expanded through technological development," Reem added.
During the event young women and their parents were introduced to the field and learned about the important role they can play in this domain.
"We need the creative impetus of female practitioners. There are many powerful role models for Qatari women. Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, is an inspiration to Qatari women looking to work hard and make their mark on their country's development," Harras said.
CS4Qatar is a series of computer science workshops designed by Carnegie Mellon for both computer science educators as well as high school students in Qatar. CS4Qatar for Women is one of the many outreach programs that the university holds to give back to the community. In April, the university will host a CS4Qatar workshop on opportunities for undergraduate research in computer science, panneled by female computer science students and professionals from Qatar.