CAITE receives NSF grant to improve computer science education nationally

Building on its success in drawing more women and under-represented minority students to study computer science at Massachusetts public colleges and universities over the past five years, the Commonwealth Alliance for Information Technology Education (CAITE) has won a major grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and will now take a national leadership role in computer science education.

CAITE will share the new five-year, $6.24 million NSF grant with Georgia Computes!, a project at Georgia Tech, to create a national resource for other states that want to learn how to successfully broaden participation in computer science education. Together, these two teams will form an Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) alliance to offer new approaches and best practices in computing education to other states seeking the same goals.

As CAITE director Rick Adrion, professor emeritus of Computer Science, and project manager Renee Fall point out, students may decide as early as middle school not to pursue computer science as a career, but a quality experience with computing early on, or even in high school or community college, can change that, making computer science or information technology (IT) more attractive.

In Massachusetts, CAITE has reached more than 21,000 students and over 1,200 educators who attended more than 350 events since the program's start in 2007. On the UMass Amherst campus, CAITE has held several day-long robot-building activity days for middle school girls from across western Massachusetts, as well as FIRST LEGO League coach training workshops for club leaders and professional development for science teachers and college faculty.

Enrollment in information technology courses at community colleges in Massachusetts working with CAITE has risen 64 percent and 78 percent in transfer programs from community colleges to four-year universities. CAITE has helped nine campuses to implement supplemental peer instruction for more than 45 courses, which has helped keep more students in the state's programs and raised average letter grades. CAITE has also contributed to an 88 percent increase in under-represented minorities at community college IT programs in the Bay State.

In the UMass system, enrollments in computer science are increasing at a greater rate than those at comparable institutions nationally, and community college enrollment in computer science and related courses is up dramatically, with the number of women and under-represented minorities significantly higher since CAITE began. CAITE staff have worked to align two- and four-year curricula and to recruit and support transfer students coming to the UMass campuses.

The new ECEP, part of NSF's Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) program, will be a resource for other state programs as they make systemic changes in educational pathways to increase the number and diversity of computing and computing-intensive degree graduates.

Adrion adds, "For computing to be taken seriously at all levels of education, we must define high school computing curricula, increase the number of well-trained and certified high school computing teachers, improve post-secondary degree programs, advising, retention and in general promote computing education reform."

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