Posted on April 29, 2024 by College of Sciences

student working on laptop

UTSA Receives Grant to Prepare More Students for Computer-Science Careers

By Ryan Schoensee

The UTSA Department of Computer Science was recently awarded a three-year, $500K grant to encourage and prepare more students for computer science careers. Jianwei Niu, professor in the computer science department and principal investigator, will lead this project along with five faculty in the Computer Science Department, John Heaps (contact PI), Kevin Desai, Amanda Fernandez, Mitra Bokaei Hosseini, and Rocky Slavin.

The grant is from the Center for Inclusive Computing (CIC) at Northeastern University. The CIC, launched in 2019, is a national effort to increase the inclusivity of computing programs across the U.S. The CIC does this through the provision of grants, technical advising and data collection services. At present, the CIC is working with more than 60 schools across the country, including UTSA.

The grant encompasses several initiatives that will bolster undergraduate student success across UTSA's computer science program and establish a more diverse workforce in the computer-science industry. These approaches include redesigning standardized introductory courses, recruiting more TAs and tutors and developing standardized training for them, incorporating faculty advising and more. These efforts are intended to streamline the undergraduate computer science program to help students graduate and join the workforce sooner.

"We will revamp the introductory course sequence of the computer science curriculum and develop innovative pedagogy and strategies to enhance the accessibility of computer science for everyone," said Niu.

The project proposes a comprehensive redesign for introductory computer science courses that will create a more cohesive and streamlined pathway for new students entering the program. The redesign will merge CS0 Essence of Computer Science into CS1 Programming I for Computer Scientists. This merger will ensure course material can be better tailored to a student's learning, enable a successful transition into later computer science courses, and contribute to faster degree completion. Additionally, the proposal will provide access to additional financial support opportunities earlier and allow students to graduate sooner and with less debt by removing the current Pre-Calculus ready requirement needed to become a computer science major.

Niu's team believes they can help address the problem of low persistence rates for computer science students by hiring undergraduate teaching aides (UTAs) and tutors who are student peers and can serve as role models. The proposal will also establish centralized recruitment, training, and evaluation for graduate TAs, UTAs and tutors that will lead to more positive tutoring experiences that are consistently engaging.

Another outcome of the proposal is to increase computer science course knowledge among academic advisors so they can customize a degree plan according to a student's goals and needs while also adhering to the four-year graduation timeline. Niu's team will achieve this by having project PIs serve as faculty advisors, who have an in-depth understanding of the computer science programs and course prerequisite requirements, to assist academic advisors in preparing students for graduation.

"By conducting a thorough assessment, we were able to identify the key barriers for computer science students," said Niu. "This project seeks to address the most prevalent issues in order to make computer science more accessible for all students."

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