A Woman of Vision by Michael McNew

A Woman of Vision in Visceral Concepts

Posted February 24, 2015 by Michael McNew & filed under Learn from the Leaders.

We’ve each been driven by a vision. It’s why we started down the path we’re on. It’s the reason our businesses or career paths exist today. And it’s why we wake up every day. Sometimes, however, we aren’t progressing towards the realization of that vision, and we get discouraged. Sometimes others tell us it’s impossible, and that there is nothing we can do except change course. Today, we learn from a leader who has not only committed to her vision in an unwavering way, but has persisted to see the fruits of her labor.

Maria Klawe is the President of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California. When she took over in 2006, the number of females getting bachelors in computer science was ghastly – only 18% – and the student body at Harvey Mudd had an equally dismal gender demographic. Women were simply not entering the technology field and, as the new President of a school focused on computers and technology, Klawe decided to change that. Despite scrutiny, she began to create a plan to lure females into the computer and engineering fields.

With numbers on a steady decline since the peak in 1985, when women made up 37 percent of graduates in the computer science field, Klawe knew she was in for a challenge. She had to make sure the school put on what some call the full court press. She began to hire more female staff, which she knew would give potential female students a vote of confidence. As of last year, 4 of the 7 department chairs are women, as are 5 of the 13 computer science professors.

But that’s just where her plan begins. Every female applicant that gets accepted begins to receive calls from both faculty and student leaders urging her to attend the college. Because the school only has a total of 800 students, these calls help to assure female applicants that they will not be the only women in rooms full of men. That’s something schools like Stanford and Berkeley can’t do.

In the first year, every female and male student regardless of major must take an introductory computer sciences class, called CS-5, that introduces students to the fun they can have as a computer sciences major. Faculty is instructed to urge the students to make computer science their mirror if not their major. That way they will have an edge no matter the field they choose, as well as a backup plan worth a starting wage of $95,000 or more.

Her plan is paying off. Last year, women made up a stunning 40% of students at the school, and she says that at least 20 of the graduating CS majors had little to no experience with computers before they attended Mudd. She has begun to influence companies like Facebook and Microsoft to improve their hiring practices and create more gender equality in the technology field. And she’s only just getting started.

A persistent plan coupled with a driving passion has lead Klawe to the place she is now, and will keep her on the path to where she wants to go. The same kind of planning and passion will help you to achieve your vision. It’s the secret to achieving your dreams.

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