Student enrollment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs is steadily increasing at universities nationwide. A report from the Computing Research Association (CRA), a nonprofit devoted to strengthening education and research in computer science (CS), indicated that interest in CS majors is also growing. The report revealed that from 2006 to 2015, the number of undergraduate students majoring in computer science at institutions offering doctorates grew over threefold. CRA’s studies also showed that more non-CS majors taking computer science courses beyond the introductory level and that more are choosing a minor in the area.
While advancements in computer science education are largely good news for the future of computing, the CRA report revealed that some inequality persists. This is not surprising because STEM disciplines have struggled to diversify the pipeline from childhood education through adulthood. Now, an initiative is making inroads to change this in the computer science field.
The BRAID Initiative
BRAID (Building, Recruiting, and Inclusion for Diversity) began in 2014 as a partnership between Harvey Mudd College and AnitaB.org in an effort to improve diversity in computer science programs at the university level. Harvey Mudd College of the Claremont Colleges in California is a leader in this area. In fact, data gathered by a University of California, Los Angeles professor demonstrated an increase of over 45 percent in the number of women majoring in CS at Harvey Mudd between 2006 and 2016. Moreover, the nonprofit AnitaB.org is devoted to increasing the influence of women in technology.
Intel, Qualcomm, Microsoft, and IBM provide funding for BRAID. The National Science Foundation is another supporter, and the program also partners with the National Center for Women & Information Technology and the Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in IT. A total of 15 colleges and universities collaborate with BRAID on a regular basis, and the computer science departments of other colleges and universities participate each year.
BRAID Beacon Schools
Leading participants in BRAID include four colleges and universities that made significant improvements in promoting diversity in computer science education before the initiative launched. In addition to Harvey Mudd College, these institutions, which are called Beacon Schools, comprise California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly); the University of British Columbia (UBC); and the University of Washington (UW). The accomplishments of these institutions mirror the success seen at Harvey Mudd College. At Cal Poly, the number of women admitted to computer science and software-engineering degree programs between 2008 and 2016 rose by 27 and 29 percent, respectively. At UBC, the number of women majoring in CS between 1997 and 2016 doubled, and at UW, the number of women majoring in CS grew by 14 percent between 2007 and 2015.
The BRAID Beacon Schools can trace their achievements to a variety of factors, such as their commitments to modifying introductory computer science courses to make them more appealing to underrepresented minority students and leading outreach efforts to high schools. The schools’ two other commitments are to build a sense of community among minority groups, as well as to promote joint majors to connect with disciplines that traditionally attract these individuals.
Beyond the four Beacon Schools, 15 universities participate as BRAID Schools. They include Arizona State University, Missouri University of Science and Technology, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and the University of Carolina, as well as the University of Vermont and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The list also consists of two Texas-based institutes, the University of North Texas and the University of Texas at El Paso.
These institutions receive annual stipends to implement the four commitments that the BRAID Beacon Schools established. Furthermore, the 15 schools cooperate with a research team from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) on an ongoing study regarding changes to the computer science departments at these institutions. The researchers use various methods to collect data from students, faculty members, department chairs, and administrators.
BRAID Affiliate Schools
Another aspect of the initiative is BRAID Affiliate Schools. They comprise colleges and universities that take part in BRAID for one year but do not receive BRAID funding. They also attend a summit with all BRAID academies to learn about the best practices for attracting underrepresented students to CS.
To date, 25 colleges and universities have served as BRAID Affiliates. In 2019, five more joined the list: Boston University, Colorado State University, Kean University, Temple University, and the University of Melbourne.
According to the latest reports from the UCLA research team for BRAID schools, the number of women enrolling in computer science courses has more than doubled. The team also found that enrollment among women in computer science courses at these schools exceeds overall enrollment growth in this discipline. Similarly, the data shows that at all BRAID schools, enrollment in computer science courses among underrepresented minority students rose by 77.4 percent, while half of the BRAID schools saw enrollment among this population expand at a faster pace than overall enrollment. With encouraging results such as these, BRAID is an approach worth emulating on an even broader scale.