The Salmasi math/CS collaboration space.

In September 2018, when Barnard introduced Rebecca Wright as the Druckenmiller Professor of Computer Science and director of the Diana T. and P. Roy Vagelos Computational Science Center, more than one-third of Barnard’s women were electing to major in a science field in that academic year. It was clearly time for the College to inaugurate a program of its own in Computer Science (CS).

Now, the College is pleased to announce that it has been awarded grant funding from Northeastern University’s Center for Inclusive Computing in recognition of Barnard’s and Columbia’s commitment to strengthen the representation of women in computing. The Center is being funded by a grant from Pivotal Ventures, an investment incubation company created by Melinda Gates. The funding Barnard receives will support a new and innovative “Computing Fellows” program on campus.

The Center for Inclusive Computing is partnering with “nonprofit colleges and universities with large computing programs (200 graduates or more per year) to implement evidence-based practices that support the recruitment, enrollment, and graduation of historically underrepresented groups majoring in computing.”

“This is an extremely exciting time for CS at Barnard,” said Professor Wright. “In addition to continuing to collaborate with Columbia, we also have the opportunity to explore new models and new kinds of computing curriculum.”

To that end, Barnard’s Computational Science Center will lead the development of a Computing Fellows program, in which Barnard undergraduates will be hired as fellows to work with faculty (in the sciences, humanities, and arts) as they develop and plan computational projects for their courses. Fellows will also run workshops for students in classes to teach specific skills, carry out activities, or explore ideas, and they’ll provide walk-in help for students who need support with concepts, assignments, or projects.

Barnard will pilot the program in 2020, during which four fellows will work with faculty to support classes that incorporate CS-related activities and projects into their courses. In subsequent years, by increasing the number of trained fellows each year, Barnard can further scale up the program and its impact. 

“By establishing a Computing Fellows program, we’re taking a proven formula here at Barnard and applying it to STEM,” said President Sian Leah Beilock. “We already have Writing Fellows, Speaking Fellows, and Empirical Reasoning Fellows. We’ve seen that these programs help students and faculty alike, and I’m excited that we can offer the same benefits in another field.”

As the number of women interested in CS grows every year, it has already become one of Barnard’s 10 most popular majors. For example, the College graduated a single CS student in 2013; in 2020, around 40 are expected to graduate through the program, up from 33 last year. With this gift and the development of the Computing Fellows program, the goal is to increase the number of students attracted to a CS degree as well as raise the level of computing knowledge and engagement with students across a variety of disciplines. 

Led by Wright, the College’s computer science initiative now occupies an entire floor in Barnard’s digital research hub, the Milstein Center for Teaching and Learning. In this space, with the Milstein Center’s digital resources and support from donors, such as Northeastern’s  Center for Inclusive Computing, CS will be able to enhance interdisciplinary curriculum and research across departments.

“Barnard Computer Science has hit the ground running under Rebecca’s leadership,” said Provost Linda A. Bell. “She’s accomplished a great deal since she arrived on campus about a year and a half ago, establishing Barnard’s strong footprint in CS, hiring in support of this growth, and continuing to build on the foundational connections to the University. Her efforts have led to a continued upward trend in the numbers of Barnard students majoring in CS, in CS enrollments, and in CS interests more generally. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.”