Class of 2016 a Milestone for Women in Physics

For the first time in its history, Harvey Mudd College graduated more female physics majors than male at its annual commencement, May 15, 2016. Of the 25 students completing a physics degree, 13 were women (52 percent).

In another first, the College graduated more female computer science majors than male—54.4 percent of students graduating with a degree in computer science were women. Harvey Mudd offers three computer science-related majors: computer science, a joint major in mathematics and computer science, and mathematical and computational biology. In all three CS-related majors combined, 49.3 percent of graduates were women—the highest percentage of women earning computer science-related degrees in the College’s history.

Harvey Mudd conferred bachelor of science degrees upon 182 students total—87 women and 95 men—at the spring ceremony, the College’s 58th since its founding in 1955.

Stanford University Professor of Psychology and bestselling author Carol S. Dweck gave the keynote address. Dweck is a leading researcher in the field of motivation. Her research focuses on why people succeed and how to foster their success and shows how praise for intelligence can undermine motivation and learning.

Dweck reflected on how people’s different perspectives on their talents and abilities can affect success. People, she says, often have either a “fixed mindset,” in which they believe that they were born with a fixed amount of intelligence and talent; or a “growth mindset,” in which they believe they can grow their intelligence and talent with hard work, persistence and good mentoring.

“Three decades of research show that the growth mindset perspective … takes more people to greater heights and makes it a lot more enjoyable to get there,” said Dweck.

“Many of you are about to enter cultures of genius—science and math cultures in which brilliance is worshipped. Unlike here, they may not appreciate the passion, dedication, teamwork and failures that make great work happen. Your mission is to bring the growth mindset into those cultures,” she said.

Dweck described situations that tend to trigger the fixed mindset, such as starting a new job or graduate school or encountering a difficult challenge. She urged graduates to always think of themselves as being on a learning trajectory, not at the finish line. “You simply haven’t arrived at those ambitious goals—yet,” she said, asking graduates to introduce this wonderful word, “yet,” into the vocabulary of new colleagues.

“Learn to stay in that growth mindset place and invite your future colleagues to join you there. In this way, you will not be leaving Harvey Mudd behind,” said Dweck. “You will be re-creating the essence of Harvey Mudd in your new life by helping to build more places of growth, innovation, inclusion and contribution.”

In the student keynote address, graduating computer science major Kaitlyn Anderson talked about “firsts at Mudd”—first-time experiences that students encounter and grow from. On her personal list: first time leaving home to live with unknown people, first time having to choose between activities she loves due to time constraints, first time having to take care of herself while managing a heavy workload and first time failing a class—a particularly good lesson.

“Mudd is tough,” Anderson said. “Over the course of these four years, I’ve learned that perfection is overrated. That life is a balance. If I want straight A’s, I’m going to have to work really hard at it. And if I’m going to play competitive Ultimate Frisbee or spend time hanging out with my friends, I may not be able to maintain them. And that the experiences I have had outside my academic life are worth letting it slide once in a while.

“Today we step across the stage and become adults,” she added, “adults with degrees, with promises of jobs, or grad school or traveling the world. This is a first I will never forget. Thank you for sharing it with me.”

Jerry Van Hecke ’61 welcomed the graduates into the Harvey Mudd College Alumni Association.

“Today you’ve joined the larger community, joining the distinguished alumni that are out there,” said Van Hecke. “In a few minutes you will leave this campus and move into what our Founding President Joe Platt often described as ‘the dangerous territory of making something of yourself.’ Do that. And from my experience with fellow alumni, I know you will.”

President Maria Klawe closed the ceremony with affectionate words for the latest crop of passionate problem solvers.

“You have learned and grown so much over the last four years and in so many different dimensions,” said Klawe. “Of course you’ve learned a huge amount of engineering, math, science, as well as humanities, social sciences and the arts. Even better: You’ve learned a huge amount at the intersection of many of these areas.

“But the thing I love most about you is that you have grown into amazing human beings,” Klawe added. “You were amazing when you got here as frosh, but you are an order of magnitude more amazing as graduates. So, Class of 2016, go forth into the world and make it better. I know you will.”

View the full Commencement ceremony