The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Institute of Diversity Sciences' REBLS Network funds three new pilot interventions to support diverse students in CS & engineering

In Spring of 2021, the Institute of Diversity Science’s NSF-funded Research-Practitioner Network (called the REBLS Network for Researchers, Educators, Business Leaders, and Students) awarded seed grants to three amazing teams of researchers, educators, and business leaders from institutions across Massachusetts working for the success of students from diverse backgrounds in computer science and engineering. The three projects are aim to foster interest in and to promote digital literacy and skills in CS for middle school students and provide mentoring to those entering community college, with emphasis on girls from underrepresented groups. See details below. For more on this funding opportunity in the 2021-22 academic year, see here.

two middle school kids looking at screenEngaging Middle School Students in Digital Literacy & Computer Science (DLCS) is designed to promote digital literacy and computer science for middle school students, with emphasis on girls from underrepresented groups. Phase I - Curriculum Development will be developed in alignment with Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's (DESE) existing DLCS curriculum and will be implemented as a pilot in 2022. The overarching goal is to engage the students in inquiry-based activities highlighting the connections between science and computer science while also building students’ computational thinking skills. The driving tool of the curriculum is Foldit, a free online citizen science biochemistry computer game. College students will mentor high school students to facilitate the Foldit activities. While college instructors have informally used Foldit in their classrooms, none of the research so far has addressed K-12 students, who will be the focus of this research project. The project aligns with the mission of REBLS by bringing together several academic institutions, including two universities and two high schools. The project is headed by Ray Laoulache (Dean of Academic Affairs, UMass Dartmouth), is instructed by Danielle Bodine (Waltham Public Schools), Deborah Boscombe (Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School), Associate Professor Firas Khatib (Computer and Information Science, UMass Dartmouth), Associate Chair for Teaching Development Neena Thota (UMass Amherst), and is guided by two undergraduate mentors and five high school assistants.  In 2021, this working group was awarded a seed grant from the REBLS Network to build this program. To learn more about this project, contact the facilitators listed on their webpage here.

Logo for Gale Force GaleForce: Interesting Girls in Robotics Learning through an Emergency Management Online Adventure Game explores an original and transformative concept of introducing computer science skills and careers in relation to the use of co-robotics in natural disaster recovery. GaleForce brings together researchers in education and computer science from UMass Amherst, Elms College, and informal educators from Holyoke Codes, a non-profit organization in Holyoke, MA, to develop a virtual robotics and coding game and curriculum immersed in a narrative of hurricane disaster relief in Puerto Rico in order to engage and interest girls in computer science. Through this project, students will learn how computer science and information technology skills can apply to many fields that help society including emergency management. The project is led by Professor Florence Sullivan (Education, UMass Amherst), Associate Professor Beryl Hoffman (Computer Science, Elms College), Andrew Pasquale (Holyoke Codes), and Lissie Fein (Holyoke Codes). In 2021, this working group was awarded a seed grant from the REBLS Network to build this program. To learn more about this project, contact the facilitators listed on their webpage here.

One black student mentoring another black student​​​​​​Building Stronger Education Pathways through Peer Mentoring for Underrepresented Students in the Pioneer Valley and the SouthCoast is dedicated to building designated dual enrollment pathways for those underserved to enter Holyoke and Bristol Community College and to aid in critical transitions along their educational pathway. This project is aligned with another REBLS project, "Peer Mentoring Pathways for Bachelor’s Completion." These two projects share a project evaluator, liaison, a peer mentor training program, and facilitator and near-peer methodology. The project will create a peer mentoring network to support students from traditionally underrepresented populations while they navigate their journey. By creating key supports at critical transition points for students, specifically those moving from high school to community college, this project team aims to increase students' sense of belonging in STEM, and improve their sense of STEM identity. The overarching goal is to help students persist through their academic journey to graduation. The project team includes Melissa Paciulli (Holyoke Community College), Bridget Hynes (Director, UMass Amherst Upward Bound), Kimberly Griffith (College Access Advisor, Bristol Community College), Gabriel Reif (Doctoral Candidate, UMass Amherst), and Anastasia Morton (Assistant Director for Academic Support, UMass Amherst Upward Bound.) In 2021, this working group was awarded a seed grant from the REBLS Network to build this program. To learn more about this project, contact the facilitators listed on their webpage here.

These are all one-year pilot projects, after which a program evaluation will measure impacts and report on outcomes among faculty/staff, mentors, and mentees. Stay tuned to learn about their progress at future meetings of the Institute of Diversity Sciences Research-Practitioner Network!