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NSF-funded grant partnership to promote computer science careers among African-American girls

September 28, 2018

Contact: Brittney Dabney, Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing

African American girl sitting at desk typing on laptopTuskegee University is one of three universities to receive a grant from the National Science Foundation that will help better prepare African-American high school girls for the computer science workforce. The program will address pressing needs of the computer science workforce, including a drastic lack of female computer science professionals of color.  

The collaborative project between the Tuskegee University, University of Alabama and Oakland University in Michigan — “bLack Girls from Alabama for Computing (LeGACy)” — will prepare African-American girls in high schools throughout Alabama to take the new College Board Advanced Placement (AP) course in computer science.

“African-American women make up only 3 percent of the computing workforce in the U.S.,” explained Dr. Mohammed Qazi, professor in the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Mathematics and lead principal investigator for Tuskegee’s portion of the project.

According to Qazi, the project will involve several efforts to increase access to and diversify computer science at the K-12 levels.

“The computer science workforce is not diverse enough — it is essentially a very heavily male-dominated area, and very few minorities are present in this field,” he noted. “When you look at the African-American sector for women in computing, they only represent 1 percent of the total computing workforce, which is unacceptable.” 

During the course of the LeGACy project, communities of young African-American girls will engage in the learning of authentic computer science. They in turn will become advocates among their peers to increase interest in pursuing technology sector careers.

Dr. Yasmeen Rawajfih, assistant professor in the Brimmer College of Business and Information Science's Department of Computer Science and co-principal investigator in the project, noted that by engaging with students in culturally relevant projects at an early stage, the program could ultimately encourage girls to pursue careers in computer science.

“By offering continuous support and mentorship throughout the academic year, we hope to see them make personal connections with content that will benefit their performance in the AP computer science course,” she explained.

During the program, both Tuskegee University and the University of Alabama will serve as implementation sites, giving students the option to participate in a residential program at either university. Oakland University will investigate the impact of project implementation in terms of the overall growth in the participants’ interest to study and pursue careers in computing.

“We will provide them with advanced preparation and experiences on a variety of topics they will learn in the AP computer science course,” said Qazi.

Participants will be immersed in activities that promote deep collaborative learning of AP computer science topics, awareness of computer science career options and community building. During the course of the three-year project totaling $1.2 million, split among the multi-university partnership, Qazi expects a total of 120 African-American girls who have committed themselves to taking the AP computer science course to participate.

“Lessons learned from the LeGACy project can help shape policy decisions regarding promising interventions to help solve diversity problems of the high-tech sector,” says Qazi.

© 2018, Tuskegee University