Ashley Garcia in FIU News

FIU has received a “Best Practice,” $625,000 grant from the Center for Inclusive Computing at Northeastern University to support the implementation of evidence-based approaches that quickly and significantly increase the representation of women in undergraduate computing.

Housed at Northeastern’s Khoury College of Computer Sciences, the Center for Inclusive Computing’s goal is to transform the national landscape of women in technology through grant funding at the undergraduate level, expert technical assistance by computing faculty, and meaningful data collection for diagnostic and evaluation purposes.

The grant will allow the Knight Foundation School of Computing and Information Sciences (KFSCIS) in the College of Engineering & Computing to reform the department’s first two computer science programming courses; develop an undergraduate teaching assistant program; and develop a sustainable faculty data analyst role. 

Increasing representation is important, according to Mark Weiss, associate dean for the College of Engineering & Computing and one of the project’s PIs.

“Aside from obvious equity and social justice issues, there is a significant shortage of computing professionals, and one way to alleviate it is to make computing attractive to the large populations that aren’t attracted to it right now,” he says.

Monique Ross, assistant professor of computer science and the project’s other PI, says the team looked at the research literature and took a pragmatic and practical approach to prioritize strategies for FIU.

“For example, we noticed wide variation in experiences in the programming I and II classrooms and took steps toward establishing some uniformity and consistency, such as establishing common outcomes, exams and training for faculty in these courses,” she says. 

Several smaller endeavors can help make all students feel included in the experience of learning computing.

“Simple things [help]: pairing women together in groups when working on projects to combat isolation or selecting projects and examples that are less-gendered, publishing grade distributions to the class to combat feelings of failure. Computing courses are challenging for ALL students, and oftentimes seeing that can counter feelings of not belonging,” Ross adds.

Also working on the project are KFSCIS associate teaching professors Maria Christina Charters and Debra Davis and assistant teaching professors Kianoush Gholamiboroujeni, Tiana Solis, Greg Reis and Richard Whitaker, faculty with a demonstrated record of being innovative and open to change.

Last year, 17 percent of students graduating with bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences from FIU were women. Weiss looks forward to that number increasing in the future, thanks to the grant.

Ross also hopes the grant will help develop an environment where all students feel like they belong in computing.

She says: “This highly lucrative and impactful profession needs their presence, their voices, and their ideas – as they are the future of tech.”