Vassar Women in Computer Science

(Fall 2005) The Vassar computer science department is proud to announce the creation of a new program called the Vassar Women in Computer Science. The initial purpose of this group is to plan periodic get-togethers for Vassar women who have either declared a concentration or a correlate in computer science or who are currently taking or even planning to take a computer science course before graduation. Later, we hope the program will develop into a mentoring communication network linking women in CS at Vassar and in whatever comes after Vassar.

Here is some background on the gender balance in CS: Computer science has always been a male-dominated discipline. Statistics show that the percentage of women entering the discipline is on a downward trend. The irony of the situation is that the job market for computer scientists, particularly those with cross-disciplinary interests, is currently fantastic. Graduate schools are eager to fund women because women are drastically under-represented in computer science programs and because it is generally acknowledged that women can bring a different perspective to the discipline. 

Computing has a long history at Vassar, one of the first liberal arts colleges in the nation to offer computer science courses.  The person who was most responsible for bringing Vassar into the computer age is Prof. Winifred Asprey (Vassar class of '38).  Prof. Asprey was a student at Vassar at the time Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (Vassar class of '28 - the "First Lady of Computing") was a professor in the Vassar College mathematics department. To keep this brief, Winifred Asprey was one of the driving forces behind Vassar College entering the computer age in 1967, when Vassar became the second college in the nation to own an IBM 360 mainframe computer. According to Ms. Asprey, quoted in an article at the time, faculty and students in the sciences rejoiced about the new acquisition, but others "could see no beneficial relation of a computer to their disciplines." Vassar College is now extremely grateful for her foresight! Besides launching the computer science program at Vassar, Ms. Asprey has been a generous contributor of equipment, funds, and wisdom to the CS department.