Press Archive

New Report from the Coalition to Diversify Computing Offers Concrete Suggestions For Addressing Underrepresentation in Computer Science

Published 07/13/2000

Contact: Ann Redelfs, San Diego Supercomputer Center, redelfs@sdsc.edu

U.S. demographics predictions indicate that African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asian/Pacific Islanders together will constitute the majority of the population in both schools and the work environment by the year 2030; the State of California is experiencing this shift in 2000. To address this change in society, a recent Coalition to Diversify Computing (CDC) workshop report, " Recruitment and Retention of Underrepresented Minority Graduate Students in Computer Science ," offers 25 practical suggestions for university computer science departments to attract and retain minority students.

Containing concrete information on the implementation of these suggestions, the 36-page report covers topics ranging from graduate school recruitment, retention, and the facilitation of early success to social, organizational, and financial issues. The report recommends an active pursuit by educators in seeking out new sources of minority students.

For example, the CDC ( http://www.npaci.edu/Outreach/CDC) has recently established a workshop that visits Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Serving Institutions in order to inform undergraduates of computer-related graduate program opportunities. Minority graduate students serve as panelists at these workshops, discussing their experiences in the research institution environment with undergraduates who might not otherwise be able to learn about graduate school.

One of the most successful outreach programs highlighted in the report is the Summer Undergraduate Program in Engineering Research at Berkeley (SUPERB), which allows underrepresented engineering students to participate in research projects with engineering faculty and graduate student mentors. Since the program was implemented in 1990, more than 50 percent of SUPERB's students have advanced to graduate school.

Another example is the partnership recently formed between the University of Colorado at Boulder and Tuskegee University in Alabama. This joint venture is related to two other programs at UC-Boulder: the Alliance for Technology, Learning, and Society (ATLAS) and ATLAS's new certificate program in Technology, Arts, and Media (TAM). Beginning in Fall 2000, the Colorado-Tuskegee interaction will arrange an annual exchange of students and faculty between the two institutions, earning each participant a certificate based on the TAM curriculum, which is hoped to be scaled to various other colleges and universities.

The Spend a Summer with a Scientist (SAS) program at Rice University focuses on the recruitment and retention of minority graduate students in applied mathematics, computational sciences, and technology. SAS participants receive summer financial aid to work on a suitably chosen research project with a faculty or graduate student mentor.

The report also suggests that the culture of the computing and research environments must be as strongly emphasized as the technical education presented to women and minority graduate students. For retention and success at the graduate educational level in computer-related programs, faculty members are encouraged to assist minority students in understanding and becoming acclimated to the research environment culture. The report advises that faculty should be conscious of the fact that "the research culture is exactly that -- a culture. The faculty should feel as urgent an obligation to teach students about academic culture as to teach any technical subject; and they should understand that, in fact, this acculturation may be more important to the student's long-term success than any particular technical knowledge."

The report also includes four appendices:

  • Statistical data on the number of doctorate degrees in computer science and engineering granted in the United States and Canada, by ethnicity, 1970-1999.
  • Lists of the principal minority-serving institutions of higher education in the United States, with their URLs.
  • Common objections a department might confront when considering action to increase diversity, and how to respond to them.
  • A list of Web sites and publications on mentoring.

William Aspray, executive director of CRA, and Andrew Bernat, former co-chair of CDC, authored the report. For a copy of the report, please contact Ann Redelfs at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC), redelfs@sdsc.edu.

The Coalition to Diversify Computing is a committee of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), the Association of Departments of Computer/Information Sciences and Engineering at Minority Institutions (ADMI), the Computer Research Association (CRA), and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (IEEE) Computer Society, sponsored by the NSF's Education, Outreach, and Training Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (EOT-PACI) program. For more information on CDC, see http://www.npaci.edu/Outreach/CDC.