LAS CRUCES – Since 2006, New Mexico State University has collaborated with the University of Texas at El Paso and a number of other universities across the country as part of the Institutional Computing Alliance serving of Hispanics, broadening participation in computing. The goal of the alliance is to develop best practices and collaborations to enable HSIs across the country to increase the number of Hispanic students earning computer science degrees and progress to rewarding careers in computer science. CAHSI’s overarching goal can be summarized as “20 out of 30” – by 2030, Hispanics will represent 20% or more of those earning computer science degrees.
Previous National Science Foundation grants have enabled CAHSI to build a nationwide infrastructure with four regions: North, Southeast, Southwest, and West. NMSU serves as the lead institution for the Southwest region which includes Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, geographic areas with the highest presence of Hispanics. The alliance now has more than 60 institutions across the country.
Each region has a tap and a connector. Enrico Pontelli, NMSU Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Regents Professor of Computer Science, is the lead, while Raena Cota, program manager, is the connector for the CAHSI Southwest region. Cota explained, “The goals of the current CAHSI project are to broaden students’ research knowledge by exposing them to research as a career path and engaging upper-division students in research experiences that prepare them in higher-level research, in addition to building our graduate programs to lead our Hispanic students to graduate school success.
Alliance Extension’s current $2.8 million grant aims to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups who pursue and earn graduate degrees in computer science fields, particularly Hispanics and women . This goal is supported by a wide range of initiatives, focused on promoting and sustaining research experiences for undergraduate students and developing cohorts of PhD students collaborating across multiple institutions within the alliance. . To support this goal, the alliance has increased participation from Hispanic doctoral institutions, with a particular focus on institutions rated R1 (very high research activity) by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.
“One of the things we’ve seen clearly is that if we’re going to make a difference hiring Hispanic students, we need Hispanic role models,” Pontelli said. “And that’s a big problem because we have so few Hispanic professors in computer science. This is where this effort comes in. We want to encourage and support more students entering the Ph.D. programs to create more computer faculties.
“It’s the systemic change we’re looking for, to promote Hispanic students’ interest in research at the undergraduate level and encourage them to earn a doctorate. and connect with other computer science PhDs. students nationally to encourage them to enter the faculty later.
Cassandra Ganska and Calicia Perea are NMSU Computer Science students on this route.
Ganska is a first generation student. Computers were the last thing she would have thought of in high school. In order to save money for college, Ganska got her EMT certification and worked for several years. She earned an associate’s degree in computer science from El Paso Community College before transferring to NMSU. She is now a senior and is weighing her options after graduation, including work and graduate school. She credits the support of the CAHSI program with opening her eyes to possibilities she never could have imagined.
“I think what touched me were the conferences we attend with CAHSI, and in those conferences there are a lot of minority people talking about their experiences from their point of view,” said Ganska. “It was really, really motivating. It really opened up the perspective for me, especially when all these companies are trying to recruit students, trying to find people and we’re in demand.
Perea, a young computer science student, grew up in Albuquerque, raised by her great-grandmother because her father had been deployed during the war. Perea started out at NMSU planning to be a nursing major, but quickly changed her mind after her first computer science course.
“I actually fell in love with it, the teacher made it so fun,” Perea said. “Then I moved to CS. Coming into CS, there was always someone you could talk to, whether it was older students or professors. I was able to really relate to them.”
Perea interned in the US military as a contractor and plans to take full-time employment when she graduates next year. But she also plans to pursue graduate studies in computer science.
“I think CAHSI has really shown me a way to help people, no matter where I’m from or what color my skin is, in a way that, essentially, we’re all equal,” said Perea. “It doesn’t matter where you come from. If you have the mindset and motivation to do something better for yourself, you can finally do it.
“The people at CAHSI have such great faith in us and love that it’s such a strong support system,” Ganska said. “As long as they see you’re putting in the effort and doing the work, they’re not going to let you down.”
Pontelli is passionate about integrating freshmen as a pipeline to the Ph.D.
“This spring semester, we encourage first-year students to get involved in research. Why? Because you can’t wait for them to be seniors,” Pontelli said. “You start from day one exposing them to research topics so they start to understand that research is fun, they can contextualize what they learn in the classroom through research projects. It’s not just for academics, it’s for everyone.
Over the next three years of the grant, the alliance plans to create a model to serve Hispanic students in graduate studies in computer science that can be used at any institution of higher education to expand participation in the computer science. The alliance will publish peer-reviewed articles on inclusive IT models for Hispanic students in graduate programs and increase the number of students from underrepresented groups, especially Hispanic U.S. citizens and permanent residents , who enter and are retained in graduate studies in computer science.
In addition, the project includes extensive partnerships with industry, national research laboratories and non-profit organizations that provide financial support for research preparation and studies.
“EYE ON RESEARCH” is provided by New Mexico State University. This week’s article was written by Minerva Baumann of NMSU Marketing and Communications. She can be reached at 575-646-7566 or [email protected].