NSF Awards UTEP $1.9 Million to Prepare New Generation in Computer Science

The National Science Foundation has awarded The University of Texas at El Paso $1.9 million to prepare more computer science professionals over the next five years.

The funds will be used to address a 2012 report on undergraduate education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) from President Barack Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). The report cites “uninspiring” introductory courses and an unwelcoming atmosphere from faculty as major factors contributing to attrition of STEM students.

The project at UTEP aims to address the PCAST findings by re-imagining what it means to learn, whose knowledge counts, and what counts as knowledge in the context of computer science. The UTEP model transforms faculty into change agents and fosters the development of positive student identities early in the curriculum to impact students’ trajectories in computer science and beyond.

Computer science department Chair Ann Gates, Ph.D.
Computer science department Chair Ann Gates, Ph.D.

CAHSI was formed in 2004 as a grassroots effort to increase the number of Hispanic students who pursue and complete baccalaureate and advanced degrees in the computer and information sciences and engineering (CISE) and cybersecurity areas.“Computer science department Chair Dr. Ann Gates and her faculty are always looking for ways to make our students more globally competitive,” said UTEP Vice President for Research Roberto Osegueda, Ph.D.

He added, “This grant will make a significant contribution to UTEP’s mission of access and excellence. Both components of that mission are critical for our University’s population, especially in the growing computer science field where Hispanics are underrepresented. Computer science faculty have taken proactive steps to support and engage an increased number of students in this field with efforts including the formation of the Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions (CAHSI).”

Throughout its history, CAHSI has produced large numbers of Hispanic undergraduates in computing. CAHSI’s graduation rates have consistently surpassed the national graduation rates, even during the decline in computing B.S. degree graduates. In 2013, CAHSI increased its graduation rate of women undergraduates by 19 percent.

The overarching goal of the new project is to cultivate socially conscious connectedness among students, faculty and industry.

This will beIMG_0018 accomplished by expanding a curriculum centered on heightened social interaction driven by an understanding and appreciation for the cultural contributions of diverse students to computer science in a globalized world.

Acquired skills and knowledge from the proposed effort are expected to transfer to other subjects in students’ studies, decrease students’ time to degree, and strengthen their preparedness for entry into the computing workforce.

Further, the development of inclusive environments with members who value multiple and diverse experiences and perspectives is needed to address global challenges and opportunities.