Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) Plan

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Effective dates of plan:
2020 – 2024
Revision of plan will begin: January 2021
Contact: Bryan Pardo, CS Faculty Diversity Committee Chair, diversity@cs.northwestern.edu


Northwestern University is a private research university based in Evanston, Illinois. Chicagoland is racially/socioeconomically diverse (22.1 percent Hispanic, 16.7 percent Black) but has struggled with a history of housing discrimination and segregation that has restricted opportunity. The Northwestern Class of 2023 is slightly more diverse than previous cohorts (12.6 percent Hispanic, 1.1 percent Native American / Indigenous, 10.2 percent Black) but still does not reflect regional or national demographics. Northwestern is uniquely positioned in a town which has acknowledged its history of structural racism, pledged to address inequity, and has made national headlines for tentative steps towards reparations. The Computer Science (CS) Department was founded in 2018 after a split from the former EECS Department and offers BS, MS, and PhD degrees. Gender diversity among the CS student population has seen recent improvements (women are 29.5 percent of the undergrad CS population, 22.3 percent of the graduate CS population) but still lacks the parity seen at the University level. Racial/ethnic diversity within CS is an area of concern for both the undergrad (8.11 percent Hispanic, 0.44 percent Native/Indigenous, 2.85 percent Black) and graduate (2.7 percent Hispanic, 5.4 percent Black) populations. Similar patterns persist at the faculty level for both tenure-track (16.7 percent women, 14.3 percent Black/Hispanic/Indigenous) and clinical (33.3 percent women, 0 percent Black/Hispanic/Indigenous) appointments.


Goal 1: Undergraduate Growth

Improve the participation of women, Hispanic, Black, Indigenous, and people with disabilities in all aspects of undergraduate computer science programs. These groups are currently underrepresented in Computer Science relative to their standing in the University in general. As a long-term goal, we aim to achieve demographic parity by having the representation of each of these groups within Computer Science match their representation at the University level. This will be difficult to achieve within the effective dates of this plan, so we set intermediate targets of 30 percent, 75 percent, 125 percent, and 35 percent increases for Hispanic students, Native American / Indigenous students, Black students, and women, respectively, within the CS undergraduate population by 2024. These targets would cut the representation gaps in half for each of these groups.

Goal 2: Undergraduate Community

Build student confidence and community with the aim of improving retention of underrepresented groups. We aim to not only increase the number of students who stay in the program, but enhance their experiences so that they can thrive. By 2024, we will reduce attrition of underrepresented groups to be on par with the general student population.

Goal 3: Graduate Support

Improve mentoring and engage in community-building activities to support existing graduate students, and attract new students with the aim of increasing participation of women and people who identify as Black, Hispanic, and/or Indigenous. We aim to have the majority of women and graduate students who identify as Black, Hispanic, and/or Indigenous report a high degree of satisfaction with the support, mentoring, and sense of community provided by the department.

Goal 4: Outreach

Design effective K–12 outreach programs that develop engagement in computer science and promote inclusivity in computing.

Activities and Education

Modify introductory CS courses

We will continually revise courses early in the CS major to ensure that they are appealing and engaging to all. We will apply appropriate pedagogical structures that have been shown to have a positive impact for students underrepresented in computing. We will use National Center for Women & Information Technology’s (NCWIT) Entry Survey or Student Experience of the Major to evaluate success.

Contact: Professors Sara Sood and Ian Horswill, Goal 1

Attract CS+X Majors

We will develop and/or promote joint majors in areas like CS and biology that are attractive to underrepresented students. We will use NCWIT’s Entry Survey to understand the impact of these activities.

Contact: Professors Josiah Hester and Sarah Van Wart, Goal 1

Train faculty in best practices for BPC

The department will participate in both national and institutional programs that improve faculty awareness of diversity and inclusiveness (e.g., NU Searle Center’s Faculty Roundtable Series and NCWIT’s Introduction to Diversifying Undergraduate Computing Programs). We will track participation in these programs and recognize faculty who attend, engage, and apply what they learn.

Contact: Professor Russ Joseph, Goals 1, 2, and 3

Participate as BRAID Affiliate

As an affiliate of this program during 2020, we are learning best practices from peer institutions with a historical record of improving diversity within their programs.

Contact: Professor Sara Sood, Goals 1, 2, and 3

Funding Travel to Diversity Focused Conferences

We will sponsor annual trips for students to attend the Grace Hopper Conference and Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing. Faculty attendance and participation is encouraged. We will conduct surveys to understand what sessions/activities students find most valuable and try to provide appropriate support within our department/University.

Contact: Professor Samir Khuller, Goals 2 and 3

Support Student Affinity Groups

The department supports student-led affinity groups: Women in Computing (WiC) [Contact: Professor Sara Sood], Grad Women in CS [Contact: Professors Jennie Rogers and Eleanor O’Rourke], Code’n’Color [Contact: Professors Josiah Hester, Russ Joseph, and Marcelo Worsley], and Latin@CS. [Contact: Professor Bryan Pardo] [Goals 2 and 3]

CS Buddy Program

This student-led program supports freshmen and transfer students who intend to declare or have already declared a CS major or minor by helping them to navigate undergraduate CS at Northwestern and find community.

Faculty Visits/Talks at HBCU and Hispanic Serving Institutions

Faculty will conduct outreach to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and Hispanic serving institutions through faculty visits and talks to encourage students to pursue graduate studies. We will monitor graduate admissions data to understand how these visits impact applications.

Contact: Professors Bryan Pardo and Marcelo Worsley, Goal 3

Expand opportunities for research

The department will accelerate current efforts to recruit students from underrepresented groups via research opportunities for undergraduates (REUs). Faculty are encouraged to participate in the DREU program and the Northwestern Significant Research Opportunities Program (SROP). We will use feedback associated with these programs to evaluate success.

Contact: Professors Marcelo Worsley and Sara Sood, Goals 2 and 3

K–12 Teacher/School Outreach Programs

Several faculty in the department have a history of engaging the community in particular K–12 students through outreach activities (e.g., D65 STEM Fest regularly features a booth run by Marcelo Worsley’s TIILT Lab). We plan to coordinate these efforts across the department and offer them on an ongoing basis for local a) high school teachers and b) high school students with the aim of building a diverse pipeline of students. These programs will draw on expertise within Northwestern (including CS+Education faculty). We will use NCWIT’s K–12 Pre/Post Surveys to evaluate these activities.

Contact: Professors Michael Horn, Marcelo Worsley, and Ollie Cossairt, Goal 4

Surveying students and tracking progress

The department will collect information about the student experience in undergraduate and graduate programs. The department will partner with the Computing Research Association (DataBuddies) and NCWIT (Student Experience of the Major) to conduct surveys.

Contact: Professor Stephen Tarzia, Goals 1, 2, and 3

Maintain diversity statistics

Continually update all statistics pertaining to diversity and inclusion. Collect and maintain data necessary to support attrition statistics.

Contact: Professor Stephen Tarzia, Goals 1, 2, and 3