Rutgers to Launch Computer Science Living-Learning Community for Women
National Science Foundation grant supports program development, first students to enroll fall 2016
The computer technology industry in the United States is expected to grow by nearly 20 percent during the next 10 years, which could lead to a shortage of trained people to fill those positions.
In an effort to close the gap and take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity, Rutgers will develop a living-learning community that aims to increase the number of women in the field and support women computer scientists.
The Computer Science Living-Learning Community for Women – the first community of its kind at Rutgers and possibly in the nation – is supported by a two-year grant from the National Science Foundation. The first year of the grant will be spent researching best practices, recruiting mentors and developing the curriculum, with the first students enrolling fall 2016.
NSF provided $250,000 in funding to three units at the university – the Center for Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science (DIMACS), the Douglass Project for Rutgers Women in Math, Science and Engineering at Douglass Residential College and the Department of Computer Science – to recruit students and build the program.
“Lack of gender diversity is a longstanding problem in the field of computer science, and one that arguably impacts the level of technical innovation possible in computer-based industries, as research has shown that diverse teams produce better results,” said Rebecca Wright, DIMACS’ director and principal investigator on the grant. “Additionally, increasing the number of undergraduate women majoring in computer science is one key to filling the predicted future labor shortage in computer science.”
While women make up more than half of the undergraduates at U.S. universities fewer than 20 percent study computer science, and the numbers are similar at Rutgers.
The new Computer Science Living-learning Community for Women at Rutgers will create an immersive educational environment, providing support and resources that will ultimately increase recruitment and retention of women in the academic major. Residents will have access to such support services as dedicated graduate student mentors and mentor-led workshops, leadership training and career seminars.
Living-learning communities (LLCs) have been shown to have a beneficial effect on undergraduate students, especially during their first year. LLCs provide students a more integrated learning experience by connecting their living environment with the curriculum or a particular theme.
“Both the Association for University Women and the Association of American Colleges and Universities consider living-learning communities a best practice for women in STEM,” said Jacquelyn Litt, dean of Douglass Residential College. “We’ve seen firsthand with our students how it can smooth the transition from high school to college and contribute toward higher student retention, grade point averages and civic engagement.”
Douglass Residential College has established two other successful LLCs for women in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, The Bunting-Cobb Residence Hall for Women in STEM and the Douglass Engineering Living Learning Community (DELLC). Bunting-Cobb is the first residence hall in the country designed for women in STEM. The engineering LLC on the Busch Campus, a partnership between Douglass Residential College and the School of Engineering, opened in 2012. The program provides its residents with support through the Douglass peer academic leader program, professional development workshops, and access to graduate mentors, study groups and tutoring, which have had an impact of retention of women in the engineering program.
“Computer science has become important to advances in nearly every domain, including national security, scientific research and commerce. It is transforming fields as diverse as aviation, media, biology, economics and medicine,” said Wright. “A workforce trained in computer science and aware of its important and diverse applications is critical to the continued prosperity and safety of our nation.”
The NSF grant will fund the initial two years of the program and an evaluation of its effectiveness. The evaluation will be conducted at Rutgers and by the Center for Evaluating the Research Pipeline (CERP) in Washington, DC. CERP was founded by the Computing Research Association and Women in Computing Research to evaluate the impact of intervention programs on increasing diversity in computer science research.