UMaine Research Program to Increase Retention, Computer Science Student Success Receives $1.5 Million NSF Award

Computers run modern life, and the need for workers who understand how they work is more important than ever. Penny Rheingans, professor and director of the School of Computing and Information Science at the University of Maine, is on a mission to make computer science degrees accessible to students, no matter where they come from. .

Previous research has shown that socioeconomic factors such as income and family background affect student persistence in STEM fields like computer science, but there is a lack of research on how programs that combine support education, mentoring, job skills development and service learning can help. students overcome these barriers.

Rheingans leads a team of UMaine faculty and staff determined to find the barriers to student success in computer science and fight them head-on, including Roy Turner, associate professor of computer science; Terry Yoo, associate professor of computer science; Chris Dufour, computer science lecturer; Sarah Saeed, program coordinator in the Department of Computer Science; and Vanessa Klein, assistant professor of education and assistant professor of extension.

This team recently received nearly $1.5 million from the National Science Foundation for a six-year project that will fund scholarships and support programming for 30 high-achieving, low-income full-time UMaine students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer science. The resulting program will be called Computing Community for Good.

In the CCG program, first-year scholars will receive up to four years of scholarships and transfer students will receive up to three years of support. In addition to providing tuition support, the program will include a summer bridging program; mentorship from faculty, peers and industry; academic and professional development activities; a living learning community; and seminars on freshman success, career skills, and leadership.

The project will support curriculum changes that aim to improve the career readiness of UMaine computer science students in the curriculum. As part of the program, students will also use their developing IT skills to improve local communities and beyond.

“Computing has become important for solving problems in a wide range of fields, from sustainability to healthcare to scientific discovery. CCG Fellows will participate in outreach to rural STEM students through 4-H and work on sustainability challenges as part of the efforts of the Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions. These service-learning elements help students understand the potential impact of their field and develop leadership skills,” says Rheingans.

During this time, researchers will examine perceptions of the barriers students in the program have in pursuing computer science in higher education, whether participants believe project activities can alleviate these barriers, and how support services and support community have an impact on student success. Through administrative data, focus groups, interviews with institutional stakeholders, and surveys of students, graduates, and institutional partners, this project aims to advance understanding of how postsecondary computer science programs can mitigate pressures on these students to improve their academic performance.

“Computer science students in Maine are more likely than students in most places to come from a low-income background, come from a rural high school, or be the first in their family to attend college. university. As a first generation student myself, I am particularly aware of some of the additional challenges faced by these students. Through this program, we aim to ensure that these students have as much chance of succeeding as those from more advantaged backgrounds,” says Rheingans.

Rheingans also co-leads the UMS TRANSFORMS Maine College of Engineering, Computer and Information Science initiative, which aims to develop the technical workforce and innovations that are essential to advancing Maine’s economy through education in technology. engineering and computer science. The initiative was made possible by a $75 million gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation and a matching gift of $75 million for a total of $150 million.

“Increasing the number and diversity of computer science graduates is critically important to Maine’s economy and communities. Last year, there were more than 1,000 computer science job openings, but fewer than 300 computer science graduates statewide. This project will allow us to meet that need for more IT professionals while providing great opportunities for Maine students to earn a good living and improve their world,” says Rheingans.

Pricing starts October 15.

Ryan H. Bowman