<p>Group photo of Computer Science Connect program.</p>

Group photo of Computer Science Connect program.

A recent gift to this university will help bring more students to the school and could help bring more women into the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, university representatives said.

The Bethesda chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, a nonprofit organization that funds academic institutions and other groups, granted $425,000 to this university, according to an Oct. 17 news release.

Of this five-year gift, $200,000 will support scholarships for engineering undergraduates, $100,000 will support computer science scholarships and $125,000 will fund the Computer Science Connect girls’ summer camp program, said Jan Plane, a computer science professor and the director of Computer Scicence Connect.

Plane, who is also the director of the new Maryland Center for Women in Computing, started Computer Science Connect as a chance to introduce female middle schoolers to computer science and show how it can apply to their other interests, she said.

“Research shows that in elementary school, the distribution of people interested in STEM is even across genders and across ethnic groups, but by the time they get to high school, it’s not,” Plane said.

There remains a sharp divide in the number of women to men in computer science as well as engineering.

According to this university’s Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment website, women represented only 22 percent of undergraduate engineering students at College Park in fall 2013.

In computer science, that number is even lower; just under 15 percent of undergraduates in the major at this university were women.

The Computer Science Connect program, which teaches girls coding skills in JavaScript and Python, aims to counteract this institutional bias, Plane said. Camp instructors teach girls these skills early on so they don’t feel behind by the time they get to college.

“This lack of experience as they come into high school or college will tend to prevent these groups from going into computing,” Plane said. “And so we need to both get them the experience but also break the stereotype of what computing is.”

The AFCEA funding will help her plan ahead to reach out to more female students, she said.

“Having the funding ahead of time is going to make the advertising and everything so much easier, and now I can reach the population I need to,” she said.

Izzy Coronado, a junior computer science major who has worked as a teaching assistant with Computer Science Connect, said the increased exposure to coding is beneficial to girls, who are not necessarily taught that computer science is a career option.

“Computer science really isn’t a core class that gets taught to elementary school students. There’s math, science, English, history, but computer science isn’t really highlighted and there isn’t much exposure to it,” Coronado said.

She hadn’t strongly considered studying computer science herself until her dad suggested it, she said, but the Computer Science Connect program helps introduce other girls to this unfamiliar field.

“Comp sci can seem really intimidating,” she said. “Girls are told this is really, really hard math, and it’s really not. And so many girls are capable of doing this that it’s not something to be afraid of.”

Earlier this month, this university received a grant of $30,000 per year for three years from the Building Recruiting And Inclusion for Diversity initiative, which is led by the Anita Borg Institute and Harvey Mudd College. With the money, the university will seek to increase the gender and racial diversity of its computer science program.

Darryll Pines, dean of the engineering school, said the AFCEA grant is important not only in helping more women enter STEM fields, but also in increasing other kinds of diversity.

The scholarships for engineering and computer science, he said, would benefit students who otherwise might not be able to afford to attend this university.

“It’s always important to have diversity across all kinds of areas — by geography, where people come from, by gender, by nationality,” Pines said. “It’s always the case that when you bring ideas in from all parts of a population, you get a better solution.”