Aug 02 2022

How To Recruit and Retain Diversity in Computer Science

By offering students access and encouragement, university IT leaders can help promote diversity in technology fields.

Historically, there has been a severe lack of representation of women, people of color and people with disabilities in technology-adjacent fields. For people in one or more of these groups to picture themselves in a career in technology, it often helps to have external encouragement and affirmation.

In high school, I took an engineering class and seriously enjoyed it. To me, this class didn’t feel like work; it felt like play. However, the idea that I might enjoy engineering as a career never crossed my mind.

It wasn’t until my first year of college, when I serendipitously ended up in a computer science class, that I discovered my love for solving complex problems creatively. I was lucky enough to have mentors to help me realize that computer science was a talent and a passion of mine, and that I should consider pursuing it as a career.

Today, as a computer science professor at Drake University, I’m honored to now be mentoring students from backgrounds historically underrepresented in computing. I am always considering ways we can build our program to be more inclusive and accessible.

There are a few methodologies that have consistently shown to increase representation of underrepresented groups in computing: increasing access to computer science education, integrating diverse role models, and providing opportunities for peer and faculty mentorship.

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Drake Scholarship Promotes Inclusivity and Digital Proficiency

Drake University seeks to broaden participation in computing through the Inclusive Scholars of Digital Proficiency (ISDP) Scholarship program. The ISDP program was specifically designed with the above methodologies in mind.

Each ISDP scholar will be responsible for completing a community service project each year. The goal is to have these projects centered on practices that will help build a more inclusive digital proficiency community. Toward the goal of increasing access to computer science education, ISDP scholars are encouraged to host Hour of Code events in the local community.

ISDP scholars can also serve as teaching assistants in digital proficiency classes, putting them in a great position to be role models for students with less experience. ISDP scholars will meet with faculty mentors once every two weeks over the course of their first year at Drake.

After they have completed their first year, the ISDP scholars will take part in peer-to-peer mentorship of the incoming class of ISDP scholars. This pipeline is designed to support students in kicking off digital proficiency careers.

LEARN: How to use analytics in support of university DEI goals.

Introductory Classes Can Set Students Up for Success

I also believe that we can accomplish our goal of increasing access by making our introductory classes as accessible as possible to a broad audience. In my experience, this means intentionally creating space for creativity and interdisciplinarity work in the courses.

Empowering students to incorporate their own passions into their computer science homework has been very effective in engaging students and demonstrating the creative power of computing.

As mentors, I encourage you to be generous with your words of encouragement and affirmations, especially to students who are underrepresented in STEM fields and who may not have considered pursuing a career in the field. Students who haven’t seen themselves represented in a career often overlook that path.

A simple nudge in the right direction could be all it takes for a student to recognize his or her talent or passion and decide to pursue it.

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