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CS Spotlight: Educator Working to Open Computer Science Pathways to Historically Underrepresented Students in California

November 29, 2021
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The Computing Talent Initiative (CTI) works to help more first-generation, underrepresented minority, and female students move from community college to university transfer, graduation, and job placement within computer science (CS).

Mindy Sanchez-Ryan coordinates CTI's computer science cohort program at CSU Monterey Bay and Hartnell College. She recently told us about the program’s vision to create CS education pathways for students who have been historically underrepresented in both higher learning institutions and the CS field. 

Why do you think CS education is important?

A big portion of job growth in the U.S. is expected to be in technology and, in particular, in CS-related fields. Broadening access and support for computer science education is critical, both to help students from less privileged backgrounds prepare for our transforming job market — and to ensure we have the necessary computing talent to support our future economy. 

In a more fundamental sense, the increasing number of technology jobs shows that CS advancements are influencing all aspects of society. To this end, we need to build CS education pathways that allow all students to play a role in how these advancements are influencing our society.

Can you describe CTI’s mission and how has it expanded since it began?

CTI aims to address challenges in CS higher education, such as capacity, quality, and diversity. To do so, CTI brings together tech companies, nonprofits, and institutions of higher education to design, develop, implement, and test programming, materials, curriculum, educational pathways, and support services to prepare CS students for success. CTI’s goal is for students who are not only underrepresented in institutions of higher learning, but also in the CS field to be competitive for opportunities in the tech industry and make significant contributions once in the door. 

Where does the vision for CTI come from?

CSU Monterey Bay and Hartnell College have worked together for 10 years to address some of the challenges facing CS higher education at a local level through the development of a cohort-based bachelor’s degree model. The vision for CTI was born out of the experiences and lessons learned from developing these cohort programs. CTI's goal is to unbundle and modify the CSUMB/Hartnell efforts wherever possible, so that they can be offered at scale to CS higher ed students across California. 

In what ways does CTI’s work support CS equity?

We operate under the guiding principle that personal or social circumstances, such as gender, ethnic origin, socioeconomic status, or family background, should not be obstacles to achieving educational potential. We’re aware that these obstacles may be exacerbated in a rigorous field like computer science, so CTI and its CS programs work with faculty and staff within partner institutions to test and implement small, but high-impact interventions. In particular, our initiative aims to support students from underrepresented backgrounds, first-generation college students, and low-income students who are most at-risk of attrition. 

For example, take our CSin3 and CS++ cohort programs, which provide a three to four year academic pathway and support structure for students to earn a bachelor's degree in CS. Students are provided with an abundance of resources, including tutoring, small group peer-led team learning, cohort enrichment workshops, professional development workshops, priority registration, scholarships and financial support, academic advising, and transfer assistance. We take into account unique individual needs and circumstances to work to ensure every one of our students has the resources and support they need to be successful. 

What challenges are CTI aiming to address down the line?

CTI is envisioned and structured as a mission-driven organization to build and cultivate comprehensive pathways that take students with an interest in CS in early college through to careers in the tech industry. The CTI team is continuously learning about challenges faced by students from first generation, low-income, and other historically underrepresented backgrounds, as well as what interventions, resources, and programs best support students through those challenges. We design, develop, implement, and test evolving programming that factors that in.

If you or someone you know might be interested in getting involved in CTI, you can learn more about the initiative through their website: computingtalentinitiative.org

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