Careers and Ed: Nurturing the drive - Page 3

Two computer science programs at Mills College aim to build second-career confidence

Two female Berkeley graduates, Paula Hawthorn and Barbara Simons, noticed in 1982 that the number of female graduate students entering the CS program was actually decreasing over time as the requirements became more geared toward people who had pursued a standard math or engineering track.

The Computer Science Reentry Program at Berkeley gave 159 students a concentrated education in upper-level computer science classes. Ten of those students have gone on to get PhDs. But the program had to fold in 1998 when California passed Proposition 209, which prohibited any state-funded programs that discriminate based on gender and ethnicity.


The interdisciplinary part of the Mills College ICS program's name means students combine computer science with another area of study to produce their master's theses. "It gives you a really broad brush," says Wetherby, the former casino worker. When a student comes to Spertus with a thesis idea, she always asks how it uses what the student has learned about computer science. But she also asks why the thesis is something that she, a narrowly trained computer scientist, couldn't do. She finds the interdisciplinary approach helps students make more of a contribution and also realize they can do things that Spertus, who has a PhD from MIT, can't.

While still at Mills, Wetherby had internships at IBM and Apple Research. When she was job hunting after the program, someone from Microsoft called her because her studies had combined computer science and education. Microsoft needed someone who could write educational programs to teach programmers about Microsoft tools.

Another Mills student, Liz Quigg, had already been an applications programmer at science labs before joining the ICS program. She'd crunched high-energy physics and moon-walk data. But the program's interdisciplinary focus also helped her get into writing educational software. Afterward, she was able to help create educational programs for the science center at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois.

"It was very useful because my job now is very interdisciplinary," Quigg says. "I work with scientists, teachers, and students. I cross different worlds." *

The deadline to apply for the New Horizons–ICS program this term is Feb. 1. You can find information and application forms online at

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