ECR Core Research: Investigating Computer Science Departmental Diversity Efforts to Identify Levers for Change
Effective Years: 2022-2025
This study addresses the longstanding problem of the lack of diversity among persons studying and working in the field of computer science (CS). The statistics describing the gender and race/ethnicity of those who earn CS degrees tell a story of a discipline that has been slow to change. The percentage of CS undergraduate degrees that have been earned by women has barely risen in nearly two decades. The lack of representation of Hispanic, African American, and Native American students in computing over the past few decades is even direr. And yet many CS departments have undertaken a wide variety of efforts to broaden participation in computing (BPC). While BPC efforts have been studied, the research until now has not examined a key lever that helps or hinders progress: faculty members’ attitudes toward diversity and their department’s BPC efforts. This project will seek to understand more about these faculty attitudes, supports, and obstacles to provide research-based recommendations to those who wish to diversify the students graduating with computing degrees. This diversification is important because today’s students are society’s future technologists, so they should reflect the society they will soon serve.
This research study will take a phenomenological qualitative approach to explore faculty attitudes, conceptions, and beliefs about broadening participation in computing (BPC) initiatives. The researchers will collect interview data from faculty and administrators in three different computer science departments chosen from among the top 25 undergraduate CS degree producers in the US. Each institution in the sample has been significantly involved in diversity efforts at the departmental level, with some successes, but with a notable lack of success in certain areas. The study’s main research question will be: What organizational conditions support or hinder faculty uptake of BPC efforts in high undergraduate-degree producing computing departments? Because faculty work within organizational systems that help or hinder their ability to produce and sustain change in their departments, the study draws upon neo-institutional theory. This theory helps clarify the role that faculty beliefs and actions play in responding to and co-creating departmental culture, including fostering inclusive departmental climates for non-majority populations. The study’s goal is to build a knowledge base of what supports and hinders departmental diversity efforts, and what organizational conditions are necessary for change to take hold. This knowledge base can lead to new interventions relative to BPC and CS faculty, as well as related research in other disciplines or other higher education institution types.
This project is supported by NSF's EHR Core Research (ECR) program. The ECR program emphasizes fundamental STEM education research that generates foundational knowledge in the field. Investments are made in critical areas that are essential, broad, and enduring: STEM learning and STEM learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and STEM workforce development. The program supports the accumulation of robust evidence to inform efforts to understand, build theory to explain, and suggest interventions and innovations to address persistence.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.