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New Course VI Pre-Orientation Program to be Gender-Balanced

By Yi Zhou

This fall, 30 incoming freshmen interested in a Freshman Pre-Orientation Program will have the opportunity to participate in a new Course VI (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) program, which will be gender-balanced.

Created to acquaint students with little or no experience in computer science with the major, the one-week program will be modeled after the 6.270 Autonomous Robot Design Competition held over the Independent Activities Period, with similar components such as Legos. According to organizers Julia M. Dennett ’08 and Laura A. Waller G, participants will also listen to a lecture series and go on an excursion into Boston.

Course VI administrator Anne M. Hunter said she hopes that the program will encourage students to take more courses in the department.

Reginald Edwards ’09 agreed — “To students who aren’t already techno-junkies or brilliant coders, majoring in Course VI could seem extremely formidable. Not having 6.001 be the first experience with the subject matter for prospective sixers definitely will not hurt enrollment,” he said.

Gender-balance will be a priority when selecting participants, Hunter said. The EECS department has one of the lowest percentages of women.

That the “department has not done as good a job as it could of advertising to all students the broad range of opportunities offered” may contribute to the uneven gender ratio, said Eric Grimson, the EECS department head. For example, few students know that course VI has a long history of biology-related work, and that over a quarter of the current faculty are involved in that field. The Department of Biology (Course 7) has one of the highest female percentages.

One freshman, Morgan Scully ’09, feels strongly opposed to the idea of forcing a balance by gender. “In gender-balancing this program, MIT is only further adding to the problem by making it seem as if women need special attention in order to enter the field of EECS,” she said.

Several other departments offer pre-orientation programs, including Course 1 (Civil and Environmental Engineering), Course 2 (Mechanical Engineering), 7 (Biology) and 22 (Nuclear Engineering).