LAS CRUCES – Since 2006, New Mexico State University has partnered with the University of Texas at El Paso and a number of other universities around the country in the Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions, increasing participation in computer science. The aim of the alliance is to develop best practices and collaborations to enable HSIs across the country to increase the number of Hispanic students with computer science credentials and progress to rewarding careers in computer science. CAHSI’s overarching goal can be summed up as “20 by 30” – by 2030, Hispanics will represent 20 percent or more of those earning credentials in computer science.
Previous grants from the National Science Foundation have allowed CAHSI to build a national-scale 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 Hispanic presence. The alliance now counts more than 60 institutions across the country.
Each region has a cable and connector. Enrico Pontelli, NMSU Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Regents Professor of Computer Science, is the leader, while Raena Cota, program manager, is the connector for the CAHSI Southwest region. Cota explains, “The goals of the current CAHSI project are to expand students’ research knowledge by exposing them to research as a career path and to engage senior students in research experiences that prepare them for graduate research. level, in addition to building our graduate programs to help our Spanish students succeed in their graduate studies.”
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The current $2.8 million Alliance Extension grant is designed to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups who complete graduate degrees in computer fields, especially Hispanics and women. This goal is supported by a wide range of initiatives, aimed at advancing and supporting research experiences for undergraduate students and developing cohorts of doctoral students collaborating at multiple institutions within the alliance. To support this goal, the alliance has increased the participation of doctoral Spanish service institutions, with a particular focus on institutions ranked as 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 want to make a difference by involving Spanish students, we need Spanish role models,” Pontelli said. ‘And that is a big problem, because we have so few Spanish-language faculties in the field of computer science. That’s where this effort comes into play. We want to encourage and support more students who are pursuing Ph.D. programs so we can create more computer science faculty.
“That’s the systemic change we’re looking for, to foster Spanish students’ interest in undergraduate-level research and encourage them to pursue a Ph.D. and connect with other computer science Ph.D. students at a national level to encourage them to enter the professorship later on.”
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Cassandra Ganska and Calicia Perea are NMSU computer science students down that road.
Ganska is a first generation student. Computer science was the last thing she would have thought of in high school. 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 weighs her options after graduation, including work and graduation. She says supporting the CAHSI program has opened her eyes to opportunities she may have never considered.
“I think what has touched me is the conferences that we attend with CAHSI, and in these conferences there are a lot of minority people speaking about their experiences from their perspective,” Ganska said. “It was just really motivating. It’s really opened up my perspective, especially now that all these companies are trying to recruit students, trying to find people and we’re in high demand.”
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Perea, a junior computer science major, grew up in Albuquerque, raised by her great-grandmother because her father was deployed during the war. Perea started at NMSU and planned to become a nurse, but soon changed her mind after her first computer science course.
“I really fell in love with it, the professor made it so much fun,” said Perea. “Then I switched to CS. When you went to CS, there was always someone you could talk to, be it older students or professors. I could really sympathize with them.”
Perea has completed an internship for the US military as a contractor and plans to accept a full-time job when she graduates next year. But she also plans to pursue a graduate degree in computer science.
“I think CAHSI has really shown me a way that I can help people, no matter where I come from or what my skin color is, a way that we’re all essentially equal,” Perea said. “It doesn’t really matter where you come from. If you have the mindset and motivation to do something better for yourself, eventually you can do it.”
“The folks at CAHSI have such a great trust in us and think it’s such a strong support system,” Ganska said. “As long as they see you putting in the effort and doing the work, they won’t give up on you.”
Pontelli is passionate about bringing in freshmen as a pipeline to the Ph.D.
“This spring semester, we are encouraging first-year students to participate in research. Why? Because you can’t wait for them to be seniors,” Pontelli says. “You start from day one introducing 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.”
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Over the next three years of the grant, the alliance expects to create a model for assisting Latin American students in computer science graduates that can be used at any higher education institution to broaden participation in computer science. The alliance will publish peer-reviewed papers on inclusive computer science models for Hispanic students in graduate programs, and increase the number of students from underrepresented groups, especially Hispanic American citizens and permanent residents, who participate in and are retained in graduate computer studies.
In addition, the project includes extensive partnerships with industry, national research labs 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 feature was written by Minerva Baumann of NMSU Marketing and Communications. She can be reached at 575-646-7566 or firstname.lastname@example.org.