About CS KickStart

Our mission: CS KickStart aims to improve the enrollment and persistence of women in the University of Michigan computer science program in order to give women a voice in shaping the future through technology, level the playing field in terms of academic and career opportunities, and benefit the field of computer science through the development of a talented and diverse workforce. We do this by:

  • Facilitating conversations about diversity with both men and women.
  • Helping incoming freshmen women build a community as soon as possible.
  • Teaching incoming freshman women without programming experience how to program in a comfortable, supportive setting that encourages risk-taking and persistence in the face of failure.
  • Helping incoming freshmen women learn what their resources are.
  • Showing students the wide range of real-world applications of computer science in academia and industry.

Why does CS KickStart exist?

The number of women pursuing some form of computer science or computing field has been steadily decreasing since the 1980s:

The number of women graduating with a computer science degree in 1984 was 37%, now that number is just 18%

University of Michigan is no exception. According to reports from the Office of the Registrar at the University of Michigan, enrollment in the University of Michigan's computer science program over the last three years has remained less than 20%:

This pipeline problem continues after college and affects industry. For example, 2015 workplace reports revealed that only 18% of Google's tech employees are women, and only 16% of Facebook's tech employees are women.

Why is underrepresentation in computer science a problem?

Computer science needs women. The United States is in a computing crisis. The US Department of Labor says that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million computing-related jobs, which means 1 out of every 250 people will need to work a computing job (even accounting for population growth). However, at current graduation rates we will only be about to fill 30% of those jobs. Women and underrepresented minorities are a relatively untapped pool of talent that could help satisfy the national demand for computing skills.

Women need computer science. Due to the high demand, computer science jobs are stable even during economic downturns and pay high salaries. (In 2015 the median starting salary for Michigan students graduating with a bachelor's in computer science was $95,000!) By missing out on computer science, women are missing out on opportunities for financial stability and independence as a whole.

Additionally, computer scientists design and build infrastructure that has major implications for society. Just think of smart phones, the Internet, and self-driving cars! The choices that designers of these systems make often determines which populations will benefit and which will suffer. If women and underrepresented minorities are not sitting at the table when these decisions are made, it is harder for these groups to shape technology's impact on society.

What is causing underrepresentation in computer science at the University of Michigan?

We are not sure why enrollment remains low, but we have a few ideas. After performing a survey of students in EECS 280 (the second introductory programming class at the University of Michigan), we found three possible problems.

1. Women were less likely to have prior programming experience.

2. Women were more likely to find the atmosphere in the computer science department competitive and unwelcoming.

3. Women were less likely to visualize themselves in a career with computer science.

How does CS KickStart help with this?

We created CS KickStart to specifically address these issues. We provide a week-long introduction to CS that takes students with little to no experience (or who aren't even really sure what CS is) and shows them what they can do with a CS degree. We address the problems mentioned above by introducing women to programming before classes start, building a supportive community that will serve students throughout their years at Michigan, and bringing in U of M faculty and local Ann Arbor tech companies to share the cool things that they do.

By doing this, CS KickStart hopes to improve the enrollment and persistence of women in the University of Michigan computer science program in order to give women a voice, level the playing field in terms of academic and career opportunities, and benefit the field of computer science through the development of a talented and diverse workforce.

This is the second year of CS KickStart, and encouraged by the many success stories from our 2016 program, we hope to continue and expand our program in the coming years.

Here are some comments from the students who participated in the 2016 program:

“I am really glad I did the program and am very grateful for the opportunity to get to do it. I would NOT be taking EECS 183 right now if I hadn't done CS KickStart.”
"I got to meet so many interesting people, and every time I see anybody from CS Kickstart on campus, we always stop and say hi. It's nice to have so many familiar friendly faces around campus already."
“I had such a great time and learned so much during this program. Thank you!”
“Great program, I really enjoyed it and am seriously considering majoring in computer science. Also I met a lot of awesome people with whom I am still friends with.”

For more information and statistics e-mail us at cskickstart@umich.edu.


Meghan Clark

Meghan Clark

Meghan is a former PhD student in computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, and is now finishing her PhD after transferring with her advisor to University of California, Berkeley. Her research focuses on coming up with cool futuristic applications for smart buildings and then designing the infrastructure to make them happen. Meghan first discovered computer science in her junior(!) year of college. She began as a double major in global affairs and conflict resolution, then switched to anthropology and economics, then finally to computer science with a mathematics minor. Why? Because computers are awesome and can do anything -- just like you!

Laura Wendlandt

Laura Wendlandt

Laura is a current PhD student in computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, where her research explores ways that computers can better understand language and images. She was first introduced to computer science through an introductory undergraduate class, where she learned how to program video game-playing web bots and maze-navigating Lego robots. In her spare time, Laura enjoys running, crocheting, and reading novels.

Nilmini Abeyratne

Nilmini Abeyratne

When CS KickStart was founded, Nilmini Abeyratne was a Ph.D student researching memory architecture for supercomputers. In addition to CS KickStart, she was also a mentor in the Ensemble of CSE Ladies, a mentoring program for new female graduate students. Previously, she has also been involved in programs by the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). She became interested in computers at a young age, typing up small computer programs with her father on their computer at home. During high school, she enrolled in programming classes at a local university. She holds a BSc in Computer Engineering from Purdue University and MSc and Ph.D in computer science and engineering from the University of Michigan. In 2017, she joined Intel as a Performance Architect where she helps design next generation Intel processors.

Cathy Finegan-Dollak

Cathy Finegan-Dollak

Cathy Finegan-Dollak earned her B.A. from Boston College and her J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law. After practicing as an attorney for a short time, she saw Watson the computer crush the human champions on Jeopardy, and she started to think, "Why is that machine not doing my job?" Then she realized that there would be humans working to make that machine do her job, and that those humans had a more interesting job than she did. Now she is a PhD candidate in computer science at the University of Michigan, where she studies natural language processing.

Katie Hennells

Katie Hennells

Katie was a sopohmore in the College of Engineering studying computer science when CS KickStart was first founded and struggling to find her way in the computer science department. Through helping create CS KickStart she found a community of women with similar passions that she could look up to. Because of this, she has stuck with CS and is now a rising senior. She was first introduced to computer science during her freshman year, and decided to major in it because it combined all aspects of her favorite things, math, puzzles, and science, in a way that was crucial and benefical to the world. During her time at the University of Michigan she is also involved in Girls in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (GEECS) as a member of the outreach committee and the autonomous car program, TechLab, through the Center for Entrepreneurship. This summer she is interning at CME Group as a software engineering intern. She is excited to see where computer science will take her next.