Narrowing the Gaps

Stevens plan aims to reduce gender, racial and ethnic disparities in computer science.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently verified the Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) plan created by Stevens’ Department of Computer Science. The NSF’s BPC initiative encourages institutions to help close the disparities in representation among people from historically underrepresented groups in computer science academic programs.  

In 2020, the percentage of women receiving computer science degrees stood at 21% — according to NSF data. Hispanic or Latinx bachelor’s degree recipients in science and engineering stood at just 17%, while Black students made up only 9% of degree recipients.  

Statistics from Stevens’ Department of Computer Science paint a similar picture: Only 21.2% of students pursuing degrees are women, 11.5% are Hispanic or Latinx and 2.4% are Black.  

“If academic departments do not do something about these gaps, we could miss out on valuable contributions from underrepresented groups,” says Erisa Terolli, a teaching assistant professor in Stevens’ Department of Computer Science.  

Terolli chairs the Computer Science Department’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, which came together in 2022 to help develop the department’s BPC plan. Other faculty contributing are Eric Koskinen, Michael Greenberg, Zumrut Akcam Kibis and Susan Liu.  

Based on analysis of its student body demographics, the department decided to take action to encourage and support more women, Hispanic/Latinx and Black individuals to pursue degrees in science and engineering, participate in internships and secure jobs after graduation. Steps included organizing an annual regional conference for women in tech, creating mentorship programs for students from historically underrepresented groups and hosting a summer camp for high school students.  

Although 33% of the current computer science faculty are women — higher than the national average — the plan seeks to further increase the representation of women on the faculty. The BPC plan also calls for the hiring of more Hispanic/Latinx and Black individuals for faculty roles. 

— Alex Soto