Opening STEM doors for women of color

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As part of an ongoing effort to boost the number of women and students of color pursuing STEM-related careers, MiraCosta College has teamed with the University of California, Irvine on an initiative to open more doors to careers in the computer science industry.

Pathways to Computing for Women of Color aims to increase the number of women of color pursuing bachelor’s degrees in computing by providing women of color studying computer science at the California community college with access to professional mentors, industry tours, academic success workshops, conference funding and a small stipend.

Both institutions will also further explore transfer agreements that meet the needs of women of color in computing.

“It opens doors to more of our students to not only get accepted into the UC, Irvine program but to also become mentors for MiraCosta College students,” said Nery Chapeton-Lamas, a MiraCosta computer science professor who chairs the computer science department.

Three other community colleges — Compton College, Cypress College and El Camino College — are also partners.

Reversing trends

The need is profound. According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), women account for less than 18% of those earning bachelor’s degrees in computing, and U.S. Education Department data gathered via the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System reports that just 8.4% of all bachelor’s degrees in computing went to Latinx students.

Initiatives at MiraCosta College, however, are helping to reverse that trend, where more than 60% of computer science students are from communities of color, and 24.6% are female.

“A lot of our time, perhaps a majority of our time, is spent in virtual worlds, so it’s imperative we develop spaces that are representative of our community,” said Michael Paulding, a computer science professor at the college. “A cultural shift is needed to ensure this technology is not relegated to one segment of the population.”

The college is in the midst of a three-year, California Education Learning Lab-funded program with Cal State, San Marcos that is addressing equity gaps in STEM subjects — in part by redesigning introductory courses in computer sciences.

Involved in the change

MiraCosta College alumna and UC, Irvine computer science junior Yocelyne Mercedes Hernandez said such initiatives are vital in opening doors and diversifying the industry.

Yocelyne Mercedes Hernandez

“There needs to be a pathway for girls and women, especially women of color, to pursue their goals in computer science,” she said. “There is more work to be done to ensure we are helping to uplift our own communities, so they can have opportunities to become mentors and leaders in the tech field.”

Hernandez is doing her part. She was heavily involved with the MiraCosta College EChALE STEM (Empowering Chicanx And Latinx in Exploring STEM) club and tutors at the college’s STEM Center. Friends involved with the Computer Science Club introduced her to a Research Experience for Undergraduates program sponsored by NSF at UC, Irvine, which led her to apply to the university.

“Having on-campus connections was important,” said Hernandez, who hopes to teach computer science at MiraCosta after earning a master’s degree and perhaps a Ph.D. “It’s from having those connections with people, who have the same interests as you, that you learn about the opportunities that are out there.”

Below, more information about the Pathways to Computing for Women of Color program.

About the Author

Kristen Huyck
is director of public and governmental relations, marketing and communications at MiraCosta College in California.