Computing Profession

Broadening Participation in Computing Is Easier Than You Think


The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) recently introduced new requirements for the Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Directorate programs, whereby some funded projects must include a Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) Plan. To facilitate this transition, the Computing Research Association (CRA) is launching a resource portal called BPCnet, which is being funded by NSF to connect organizations that provide BPC programs with computing departments and NSF grant proposers. These changes reflect a recognition that any significant impact on the diversity of the field will benefit greatly from engaging the entire academic computing research community. Many universities will respond by expanding their broadening participation efforts to include students from groups who are underrepresented in computing, including women, underrepresented minorities, and students with disabilities (URMD). We list below 10 small steps that departments can do toward this goal.   

1. Organize departmental BPC efforts at your university: Create a sign-up list of diversity activities, and incentivize all faculty to participate. Create a departmental strategic plan for broadening participation that faculty can support and amplify in their funded NSF CISE proposals. Consider how to leverage BPCnet providers as part of your departmental plan.

2. Optics matter: Include pictures of URMD students in websites and printed materials. Artwork, examples in class, etc., should appeal to all students and not reinforce stereotypes. The same goes for examples you present in class. If you think they fail to be inclusive, they probably are.

3. Make departmental infrastructure accessible, inclusive and internationalized: Provide accessible classrooms, labs, offices, websites, videos, etc. Use international alphabets for student names. Ask students for preferred pronouns.

4. Measure and track: Analyze your enrollment, demographics, etc., regularly to identify problem areas and track changes, on your own, or with the CRA Data Buddies.

5. Create a community for URMD students: Sponsor student organizations, and send students to Grace Hopper, Tapia, and other celebrations of diversity in computing.

6. Recruit URMD teaching assistants, professors, advisors: Representation matters. Students value seeing someone who looks like them being successful in their field.

7. Promote undergraduate research: Work with women and URMD students in undergraduate research projects, for example, through CRA's CREU and DREU.

8. Create curriculum enhancements that appeal to diverse students: Create introductory courses that assume no computing background, CS+X degree programs, service-learning, and accessibility electives.

9. Develop the K-12 pipeline: Work with K-12 teachers (CSTA) and improve state curricula (ECEP) to advance K-12 computing education.

10. Engage the community to stimulate computing interest and skills: Organize rigorous and joyful outreach events that bring diverse K-12 students and their families onto your campus.


From "Increasing Diversity In Computing Is Easier Than You Think: Some Small Steps That Can Make A Big Difference," panel, 2018 CRA Conference at Snowbird, UT.

Mary Hall is a professor in the School of Computing at the University of Utah, and a member of the Computing Research Association Board. Richard Ladner is professor emeritus in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington. Diane Levitt is the senior director of K-12 Education at Cornell Tech. Manuel A. Pérez Quiñones is associate dean of the College of Computing and Informatics at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and professor in the Department of Software and Information Systems.

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