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New UCLA Research Initiative Aims to Accelerate Equity in Computing and Technology Fields

The UCLA School of Education and Information Studies has formed Momentum: Accelerating Equity in Computing and Technology, an important research initiative to diversify computing and technology, with an intensive focus on the recruitment of women and people of color into computing education and technology career pathways.

“The persistent lack of diversity in computing and technology requires that we achieve greater momentum in seeking evidence-based solutions,” said Linda Sax, a professor of higher education at UCLA and founding director of Momentum.

Momentum will engage in critical research and actions to diversify participation in computing and technology fields. Their work, supported by Pivotal Ventures (an incubation and innovation company founded by Melinda Gates), the National Science Foundation and others, will examine interventions from the perspectives of students, faculty, administrators and academic leaders, catalog what is known about efforts to diversify computing, and inform best practices for broadening participation in computing. 

The effort is sorely needed. Women currently hold just 26% of computing jobs, with African American women making up only 3% and Latina women making up just 1% of the tech workforce. 

Momentum will build on and expand work that Sax and Kate Lehman, an academic researcher at UCLA and the associate director of Momentum,have done since 2014 with BRAID, which stands for Building, Recruiting, and Inclusion for Diversity. That research examined diversity efforts and progress among computing departments committed to increasing gender and racial/ethnic diversity in their undergraduate computing programs. 

One important new project will be work with the Center for Inclusive Computing at Northeastern University, which provides peer-led technical support and funds for colleges and universities to increase diversity in their undergraduate computing programs. With specific project funding from the National Science Foundation, Sax and Lehman will collaborate with the Center for Inclusive Computing’s team to conduct research that builds off of their prior work with BRAID to generate new knowledge that informs efforts to increase the representation of women and Black, Latinx and Indigenous students in computing fields. 

“We are particularly interested in understanding the experiences and pathways of women of color,” Lehman said. “We plan to gather longitudinal data on students’ experiences in computing departments as a way of understanding their trajectories in computing though college and beyond into careers and graduate school.”

The first step will be to conduct a baseline survey of first- and second-year students enrolled in computing courses at CIC institutions, beginning in Spring of 2021. The goal is to learn about their college experiences and exposure to “best practices,” including efforts to promote inclusive environments and make introductory computing courses accessible to students without prior computing experience. 

“Focusing on the first- and second-year students taking any computing courses will allow us to gather detailed data on the experiences that promote and discourage students’ recruitment and retention in computing fields, especially for women, women of color in particular, and students from other marginalized groups, including those who do not start out as computing majors,” Sax said. 

“The support of Pivotal Ventures, the National Science Foundation, and other funders enables us to build on what we have already learned to forge a pragmatic and collaborative research agenda that fuels greater momentum for the participation of women and Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students in computing and technology.”

Linda J. Sax is a professor of Higher Education & Organizational Change (HEOC) in the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies and the Founding Director of Momentum: Accelerating Equity in Computing and Technology at UCLA. For over three decades, Dr. Sax’s research has focused on gender differences in college student development, with an emphasis on women in STEM fields. Dr. Sax previously served as national director (from 1997 to 2005) of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) at the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), the nation’s largest and longest-running multi-institutional study of college students. Dr. Sax is the author of more than 100 publications, including her book, “The Gender Gap in College: Maximizing the Developmental Potential of Women and Men.”

Kathleen J. Lehman is an assistant academic researcher in UCLA’s School of Education & Information Studies and serves as Associate Director of Momentum: Accelerating Equity in Computing and Technology at UCLA. Dr. Lehman’s research interests include gender issues in higher education, women and minoritized students in STEM fields (particularly computer science), and co-curricular learning experiences for STEM students. Dr. Lehman serves as co-Principal Investigator for several Momentum projects, including the NSF-funded broadening participation literature database, as well as the team’s work with the Center for Inclusive Computing. Prior to her time at UCLA, Dr. Lehman worked in student affairs.

To read the full report, visit the Sudikoff Public Forum website.