hsi-stem-spring2014-021.jpgIt’s no secret that diversity—cultural, ethnic and gender—is in short supply in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions. And the stakes are high. Not only does lack of diversity represent a loss of talent, according to a September 10, 2014 article in Scientific American by Kenneth Gibbs, Jr., but, he writes, “[d]iversity leads to better problem-solving, expands the talent pool and is important for long-term economic growth.”

While the National Science Board’s most recent “Science and Engineering Indicators” report noted that the U.S has made progress toward a more diverse STEM labor force, there is still substantial room for improvement, as participation in STEM jobs varies considerably from group to group. The College of Engineering and Computer Science is deeply committed to increasing the diversity of its enrollment, and toward that end has launched a series of initiatives and programs over the past few years designed to attract and retain underrepresented students. In 2011, the college was awarded a $5.5 million HSI-STEM grant from the U.S. Department of Education to implement a program designed to increase the number of Hispanic, low-income and other underrepresented students graduating from CSUN with degrees in engineering and computer science. The project, AIMS2, is a partnership with Glendale Community College and College of the Canyons and features special mentoring and advisement by faculty, tutoring and peer mentoring, along with social activities and opportunities to participate in summer research projects. Some 187 students have taken part since the program’s inception. (See www.ecs.csun.edu/aims2 for more information about AIMS2.) Recently, AIMS2 and other efforts have been garnering CSUN and the college national recognition and additional support.

TIDES grant to promote diversity in computer science

Evidence that CECS is having an impact on the national stage emerged in June, when the college was awarded a TIDES (Teaching to Improve Diversity in STEM) grant to fund a novel approach to attracting underrepresented students to computer science and retaining them in the major. TIDES, funded by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and administered by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), is a threeyear initiative designed to increase the learning outcomes and retention of students historically underrepresented in the computer/information sciences and related STEM disciplines by developing and implementing curricula and empowering STEM faculty to adopt culturally sensitive pedagogies. CSUN was one of only 19 institutions nationwide to receive a 2014 TIDES grant.

hsi-stem-spring2014-125.jpgThe CSUN TIDES project will use music to engage and retain underrepresented computer science students. According to Ani Nahapetian, an associate professor of computer science and principal investigator on the grant, she and her colleagues had observed that the programming exercises students typically are assigned in introductory programming classes, such as calculating compound interest, lack cultural relevance.

“Instead of the standard apps, we want to create a new, exciting body of applications that leverage world music and have greater cultural relevance,” she explains.

The team has targeted COMP 110, Introduction to Algorithms and Programming, for the project, an important course that is required for five different majors from three colleges. With the help of student assistants, Nahapetian and co-PIs Gloria Melara, a professor of computer science, and Ric Alviso, music department chair, are redesigning the course materials and producing the new applications. The first one they are working on is a drum machine. Students will learn the basic concept of a loop, which is part of every programming class, using it to generate rhythms with a drum machine.

“With some association with the program application area, we hope students will feel more at ease with the course material and remain interested in programming,” Nahapetian says. “We also hope that they will run their programs for their friends, in turn attracting more students to programming.”

The revised applications will debut in fall 2015, and the team is looking to go beyond the drum machine with the addition of exercises incorporating musical scales. In the last year of the three-year project, they hope that sharing the project will inspire others to expand it further. All the materials and applications will be publicly available online so faculty around the world can access them and to incorporate them into their courses.

“Changing the app doesn’t change learning content, but it may help to attract and retain students,” Nahapetian says. “Music has very powerful associations for most people, and many students even consider music a significant hobby. The introductory course is the best place to intervene. If we achieve what we hope to and keep students on track for computer science degrees, our graduates will find abundant and lucrative job opportunities and a very exciting career field.”

For more information, visit www.ecs.csun.edu/tides.