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Hispanics in computer science supported by $10 million grant

Angel Ulloa

It looks like Hispanic students enrolled in Computer Science at the University of Texas at El Paso had good fortune this semester. UTEP is engaging in a national initiative to increase the number of Hispanic students who want to enroll, participate, and conduct research in computer science.

Professor and chair of UTEP’s Department of Computer Science, Ann Q. Gates, Ph.D., will lead the work that will open doors for Hispanic students who are pursuing careers in the field. Gates was recently named a recipient of a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant worth nearly $10 million. Proving the grant was highly competitive to obtain, Gates was one of 95 recipients in the nation. She collaborates with other individuals from different institutions and organizations to form the Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions  (CAHSI).

According to their website, member institutions work together to implement initiatives, document their work, and spread the information beyond CAHSI. An initiative under CAHSI, called CAHSI INCLUDES, is a national priority coming from the director of the NSF. The perspective of the program is to advance science and discovery and to achieve uniformity in the number of Hispanics who complete computation-based graduate studies.

The initiative looks to form networked partnerships with institutions and organizations across the nation, specifically with Hispanic populations. The initiative’s efforts will focus on helping Hispanic students transition from associate degree programs to baccalaureate degree programs. Those already in baccalaureate programs will be supported to attend graduate school and earn a master’s degree.

“Our focus has always been on recruiting, retaining and advancing Hispanics in computing,” Gates said. “You need inclusion, you need to bring in people that have different perspectives, different experiences to be successful. So, we are working across the country. We have regional hubs that are focused on bringing people from the community together: non-profits, industry, community colleges, and four-year colleges.”

The institutional membership consists of computer science professors from different universities such as New Mexico State University, Texas A&M University-C.C., Florida International University, among others. With the collaboration of over 40 institutions and organizations, CAHSI’s agenda moves forward. Dr. Enrico Pontelli, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at NMSU, works closely with UTEP and is leading the southwest collective of CAHSI.

As the grant money is being put to use, CAHSI has already helped UTEP students advance in their careers. Gates stated that the initiative has been working with Google, as students are spending the whole semester with Google taking classes. Hispanic students, with the support of CAHSI, can attend conferences, where they can showcase their talent in STEM disciplines.

Alejandro Dávila, UTEP senior Computer Science major, and Ana García, also a senior Computer Science major, are student advocates for CAHSI and they promote everything that it does.

“We encourage students to be involved, we encourage them to get internships, to look for research opportunities,” Dávila explains. “We have also been going to many classrooms and talking [to students] about internships and talking about how important it is to get professional experience in an internship before graduating. We want more Hispanics to get into the industry and to do research as well.”

The students created an online newsletter called Pick X, which looks to get students engaged in the computer science department. The website features information on employment opportunities, professional development tutorials, articles, and other tools to help all students in computing.

Andrea Valdrez-Rivas may be reached at [email protected].

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Hispanics in computer science supported by $10 million grant