Empowering Leadership: Computing Scholars of Tomorrow Alliance

First EL Alliance Press Release, April 25, 2007

Multi-Partner Empowering Leadership Alliance to Tackle Issues Impacting the Progress of Minorities in Computing Disciplines

Plans Include Engagement of Underrepresented Minority Students at Majority Institutions in a Nationwide Network

The National Science Foundation has awarded a three-year $2 million grant for a national alliance to be led by Rice University that will engage underrepresented minority students in computing disciplines at majority institutions in a nationwide network. The network, composed of dozens of leading universities, professional societies, laboratories, research centers, and corporations, will involve students in research opportunities, professional development, mentoring programs, and support to keep the students excited and motivated as they pursue computing careers. This alliance, entitled “Empowering Leadership: Computing Scholars of Tomorrow,” or the Empowering Leadership (EL) Alliance, benefits from the leadership and vision of six of the nation’s top universities, with the active engagement of 24 diverse, initial partners and a plan for ongoing evaluation and feedback, particularly from the students involved.

The Empowering Leadership Alliance will provide a community comprised of human, institutional, and programmatic resources to help ensure the success of minority scholars in computing disciplines at tier-one institutions, who are scattered so sparsely across the country that they may be the only one, or one of very few, minority students in their classes. Their network of formal and informal resources, support, and encouragement, so critical to all students, is significantly smaller, and less robust, than more established networks of student support.

According to Richard A. Tapia, University Professor at Rice University and the director of the EL Alliance, “At universities across the country, we are seeing what I call the ‘loss of the precious few.’ Research shows that isolated, unsupported students of all kinds will leave an environment that does not meet their needs. Students migrate to more welcoming degree programs and departments where they recognize that they have support, a vested interest, and a high probability of success. Those that do complete bachelor’s degrees in the computing disciplines may have had such a painful journey that they are unlikely to consider graduate school, and another opportunity for diversifying our national leadership in computing and advanced technology has been lost. In the case of minority scholars at the nation’s top institutions, there are many choices inside and outside of the university environment that offer vibrant opportunities and a welcoming environment. We aim to provide both, within the computing disciplines.”

There are indeed precious few students: according to the 2004-2005 Taulbee Study, an annual report from the Computing Research Association (CRA), there were just 38 minority (African-American, Native American, or Hispanic) Ph.D. graduates in computer science or computer engineering, out of a total of 1,189.  Even more alarming, enrollment is down.  According to additional 2004-2005 CRA research,  “The number of new students entering Ph.D. programs decreased from 2,887 to 2,749 (5%). This follows an 8% decrease last year and a 5% decrease the previous year. Again this year the decrease is entirely in the U.S. programs, whose new Ph.D. enrollments are down more than 7%. For the second straight year Canadian departments showed a 20% increase in new Ph.D. students.” Recognizing that the country is at a critical juncture to retain every student in the computing disciplines, the National Science Foundation started a “Broadening Participation in Computing” program in 2005 that now has nine alliances, including the EL Alliance.

How does the EL Alliance plan to impact the retention of these “precious few” students? By taking full advantage of the resources in the alliance and the national computing community. The EL Alliance includes a strong leadership, through Rice University; Boston University; University of California, Berkeley; University of Colorado, Boulder; University of Texas, Austin; and Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, each with its own unique role and resources in the endeavor. The EL Alliance will provide students with summer research opportunities with some of the most experienced and successful computing researchers in the country; mentoring; in-person meetings with national leaders; an online speaker series and meetings to encourage students, discuss challenges, and engage minority role models; professional development programs; and personal, tailored career support as they pursue their degree.

The current partners in the EL Alliance also include professional societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, Association for Computing Machinery, Computing Research Association; universities: Arizona State University, Auburn University, Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University, Duke University, Harvey Mudd College, Portland State University, Princeton University, Purdue University, University of Maryland, University of Wisconsin, Madison; national laboratories and centers: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, National Center for Women in IT, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Renaissance Computing Institute, Sandia National Laboratories; and corporations: AMD Corporation, HP, IBM, Intel Corporation, Microsoft Corporation, and Texas Instruments.