When courses are optional, as is typical for computer science, students rely on their stereotypes about the fields to decide whether to enroll. And as one undergraduate research participant in our lab put it, the current stereotypes of computer scientists is that they are “nerdy guys” who “stay up late coding and drinking energy drinks” and have “no social life.”
This geeky image is at odds with the way that many girls see themselves. Work from our lab shows that when high school girls see Star Trek posters and video games in a computer science classroom, they are less interested than boys in taking the course. When the classroom is devoid of décor, girls still opt out. It is only when an alternate image of computer science is presented by replacing geeky objects with art and nature posters that girls become as interested as boys.