Female retention went from zero to 86% and male retention from 70% to 93% in required introductory programming courses after a WomenTech Educators Training


A computer programming professor finally found the tools she needed to improve enrollment and retention of women in STEM (male retention increased, too!) after taking a WomenTech Educators Training followed by six months of group telecalls on plan implementation.

Associate Professor Barbara DuFrain increased her female enrollment by 62% and increased the retention of her female and male students by 45% in less than a year.

Del Mar STEM Faculty and Female Students

Female STEM students at Del Mar College are joined by STEM faculty including Barbara DuFrain,
who successfully increased the number of women in her programming courses.

Barbara DuFrain, an associate professor in Computer Science, Engineering and Advanced Technology (CSE& AT) at Del Mar College, had tried in the past to increase the number of women in her required introductory programming courses, but the recruitment strategies weren't effective and the few female students that came on their own dropped out. These introductory programming courses are critical because students are required to complete them in order to get a certificate or Associate of Science degree in Computer Programming.


Barbara DuFrain

"Before [attending the WomenTech Educators training] I had a lot more success retaining women in my database class than in my introductory programming classes -- actually I wasn't retaining any women in my introductory programming classes. They were all dropping.

That was a big win for me, that I had an increase in retention of females in my introductory programming courses."

~ Barbara DuFrain, Associate Professor, CS, Engineering and Advanced Technology, Del Mar College, TX

She left the Training with a Plan

Barbara DuFrain participated in a two-day, in-person WomenTech Educators training in July 2012, funded by the National Science Foundation. The training was enhanced by six months of follow-up support -- including group Support & Strategy calls on plan implementation and access to an online learning community with other training participants. After the training Professor DuFrain said:

"I want to commend you [IWITTS] on the structure of the material and how when I walked out of the training I had a plan. If I had not had a plan, I would have gotten back and not done as much. Having a plan all laid out, when I walked in, gave me something I could work with."

All participants at WomenTech Educators trainings develop step-by-step strategic recruitment and retention plans for increasing the number of female students in their STEM courses.


Classroom Retention Strategies Worked Right Away

After losing a female student at the very beginning of the fall semester before she even had a chance to speak with her, Professor DuFrain realized she needed to make implementing the classroom retention strategies (from the WomenTech Educators training) a priority during the first critical weeks of the semester. So she started using the WomenTech Educators welcoming conversation talking points with her students. She retained all four of the remaining women in her introductory programming courses for the first time ever. A higher percentage of male students completed the courses as well. Completion rates for female students in the introductory programming courses went from a baseline of zero to 86% and male retention went from 70% at baseline to 93% for fall 2012. This means that retention of all students went from 61% to 88% – a 45% increase for all students on average. Professor DuFrain's strategies are working and she has the numbers to prove it.

The Three Main WomenTech Strategies that Professor DuFrain Employed Were:

  • Icebreakers to engage and connect students early in the semester
  • The welcoming conversation talking points from the WomenTech Educators training
  • Teaming and pair programming

Barbara DuFrain used the welcoming conversation talking points in class lectures and one-on-one conversations with all of her students – both female and male. She saw the difference the talking points and other retention strategies made right away with one female student in particular. This female student was the only woman in one of Professor DuFrain's Fall 2012 programming courses, and she was feeling tentative and out of place in a class with all men.

Thanks to the training, Professor DuFrain recognized the warning signs for a woman about to drop a class. She immediately spoke with the student and connected her with three other women in another of her programming classes. Professor DuFrain also observed how the student was doing in teams and pairs with male students. The lone female student – who was tentative – didn't just successfully complete the course, "She ended up being a leader on her team," according to Professor DuFrain.

One of the many encouraging results of these retention strategies has been all the positive feedback from female and male the students. Professor DuFrain reported that, "Students have said that teaming has helped keep them in the class." Several of Professor DuFrain's female students have also showed their appreciation for her efforts to help women in STEM at Del Mar College by presenting her with flowers and a plaque at a Faculty Recognition Ceremony during a Del Mar College Board of Regents meeting.

Professional Development

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National Training Institute

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Onsite Training


Training Case Study

Dedicated Online Training


Barbara DuFrain Accepts Flowers from her STEM Students at a Faculty Recognition Ceremony.


Smart, Wonderful Women Outreach Campaign

Barbara DuFrain began implementing the strategies from her recruitment plan when she returned from the WomenTech Educators training and started seeing results the next semester. Professor DuFrain discovered at the training that her previous recruitment efforts had been unsuccessful because she'd chosen the wrong target audience. Now she had a target audience that mapped to her enrollment goals and included the low hanging fruit. She came back from the training energized and ready to start implementing her new recruitment plan with the support of other training participants and IWITTS's Executive Director Donna Milgram during monthly group Support & Strategy calls. During one of the calls, Professor DuFrain realized she needed to create an innovative and engaging recruitment campaign after she heard about a colleague's recruitment email that flopped because it was dry and academic.

Spurred into action, she and a colleague came up with a Smart, Wonderful Women outreach campaign that uses real female role models to appeal to potential female students. Professor DuFrain has developed four YouTube videos featuring female role models in GIS and Computer Information Systems, and is in the process of rolling out a web strategy to more widely distribute the videos. So far she has worked with the college to get them posted on the homepage and shared them on the college's Facebook page. She says it was the support of her peers and colleagues that kept her going when she ran into challenges implementing the outreach campaign. "[During the support calls] I heard other people also encountered challenges," said Professor DuFrain. "It's something that is a problem and that will really take a change in how we recruit and talk about programs...I realized it's incremental. I'm having success. It's going to take time."


Increase in Female Enrollment from Baseline after WomenTech Educators Training

Her recruitment plan implementation started paying off in the spring semester when she had five women enroll in just one of her four programming courses. Female students made up an average of 21% of her introductory programming courses compared to a baseline of 13% female -- a 62% increase.

Female Role Model Events

What was one of Barbara DuFrain's most powerful recruitment strategies? According to Professor DuFrain:

"I decided to hold a Smart, Wonderful Women Meet and Greet for students in feeder courses. [...]The advanced students started telling the beginning students how great networking was or how much fun it was in GIS. Each one started selling their program to the other women. I just sat there and let them sell. [...] I had more women in my programming classes this spring than I've ever had."

To get women to the event, Professor DuFrain distributed glossy postcards and full page flyers featuring female role models to female students directly and to faculty to share with their students.

The WomenTech Educators training taught Barbara DuFrain how to put on a "Women in STEM" career event to recruit female students to her programs and the importance of female role models. Professor DuFrain started small with her own "Smart Wonderful Women Meet and Greet" and then scaled up her recruitment efforts by working with her college's Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) STEM Project to hold a half-day career event called "Encouraging Women in STEM". Close to 250 students from Del Mar College and the surrounding high schools attended. The career event featured talks by eight female role models working in STEM careers in the community and exhibit tables by seven Del Mar College STEM programs and five STEM companies from the college's career pathways. The keynote speaker was a female Commander in the Navy stationed locally who was both a chemical and civil engineer. Female role models are key to helping female students see themselves in STEM careers and the WomenTech Educators training teaches educators where to find them."


Postcard for Smart Wonderful Women Outreach Event (Click for Larger Image)


Flyer for "Encouraging Women in STEM" Event (Click for PDF)

Building on Early Successes

Barbara DuFrain successfully used the tools and strategies from the WomenTech Educators training to improve enrollment and retention of women in STEM, (and the retention of men as well,) in less than a year. She plans to continue to use the WomenTech retention strategies in the classroom and incrementally roll out her Smart, Wonderful Women outreach campaign with the help of others at Del Mar College. She created a new recruitment and retention plan in the spring with the larger goal of getting more of her college involved in this effort and she is using statistics she received from the WomenTech Educators training to convince key decision makers to come on board. In Professor DuFrain's own words:

Barbara DuFrain

"I send all the IWITTS emails to my faculty and key people at the college that can make a difference. The point is that when people say something, I have numbers. I give them IWITTS's statistics. That's really helped…having the discrete data that IWITTS talks about helps when I'm talking with engineers and people that want numbers. Instead of saying 'my opinion' I say 'the strategy is this' and here are the numbers that explain why the strategy works."

~ Barbara DuFrain, Associate Professor, CS, Engineering and Advanced Technology, Del Mar College, TX

Find out More about the WomenTech Educators Training

For more information on the WomenTech Educators Training developed by IWITTS's Executive Director Donna Milgram, based on proven strategies culled from IWITTS's four National Science Foundation (NSF) projects and over 18 years of success in assisting educational institutions in recruiting and retaining female students in STEM programs around the country, visit our "WomenTech Educators Training" page.

Case Study Quick Facts

School: Del Mar College, TX

Instructor: Barbara DuFrain

Program Area: Computer Programming

Challenge: Females accounted for 13% of enrollment and had never completed the required introductory program courses taught by Professor DuFrain.

Solution: Apply strategies learned in a WomenTech Educators Training, followed by six months of group Support & Strategy calls. During this time she received help on implementing the recruitment and retention plan she developed during the training. The WomenTech Educators Training is offered by the Institute for Women in Trades, Technology & Science.

Results: Barbara DuFrain attended the training in July 2012 and began implementing her retention plan early the following semester. She was so happy when she retained 4 women in her fall 2012 introductory programming courses for the first time ever. As one of the components of her plan, she started a Smart, Wonderful Women outreach campaign and within two semesters she saw a 62% increase in female enrollment. She expects to see significantly greater increases as the school-wide campaign continues to expand and gain momentum.

Retention Increase: Completion rates for female students went from zero to 86% and male retention went from 70% at baseline to 93% for fall 2012.

Recruitment Increase: Enrollment of female students increased from a baseline of 13% to 21% on average over the fall 2012 and spring 2013 semesters.

Timeline: Barbara DuFrain saw improved retention of both female and male students the very next semester following the training.

Quote: "That was a big win for me, that I had an increase in retention of females in my introductory programming courses, which is what I was working on doing. [...] I was not retaining women until I went to the training."

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant No. 1102996. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.

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