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Expanding the Pipeline for Minorities and Women into the Computational Science Community
From: NPACI & SDSC Envision, April-June 1998

Noah Harding Professor, Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics; Director of Education and Human Resources, Center for Research on Parallel Computation, Rice University

MINORITIES AND WOMEN ARE SEVERELY UNDERREPRESENTED in computing and the sciences, and with so few mentors and role models, it is difficult to encourage today's students to follow these career paths. To combat this problem, NPACI, through Richard Tapia, is sponsoring several workshop and mentoring programs at Rice University. In one minority mentoring program, nearly all participants have received or are working toward advanced degrees. All the programs support relationships between high school and graduate students, high school educators, and university faculty as well as discussion of diversity issues and ways to increase success among women and minorities. Additional programs based on this model will soon be initiated at other NPACI sites.

Cynthia Lanius and Richard Tapia of the Center for Research on Parallel Computation at Rice University talk with student Quahtemoc Cruz about careers in mathematics and science during a GirlTECH/MCSA workshop.
According to the National Academy Press, African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians together make up 23% of the U.S. population, but account for only 6% of the science and engineering labor force. Similarly, the National Science Foundation (NSF) reports that in 1991, women received relatively few engineering (9%) and mathematics and computer science (17%) degrees at the doctoral level. "No first-world nation can maintain the health of its economy or society when such a large part of its population remains outside of all scientific and technological activity," Tapia said.

Nearly 10 years ago, Tapia began attacking this problem with support from the Center for Research on Parallel Computation (CRPC) at Rice University. Today, Tapia runs three workshop and mentoring programs: the Mathematical and Computational Sciences Awareness (MCSA) Workshop; Spend a Summer with a Scientist (SaS); and GirlTECH.

"Without role models to identify with, it is difficult for women and minorities to imagine themselves assuming positions - much less positions of leadership - within the field," said Tapia, co-chair of the Education, Outreach, and Training Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (EOT-PACI). EOT-PACI unites the outreach activities of NPACI and the National Computational Science Alliance.

To date, Tapia's activities have focused on Rice and the surrounding school districts in Houston but will be implemented elsewhere in the future. Evaluating such projects through the Learning through Evaluation and Dissemination (LEAD) Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, was built into the EOT-PACI program as a way to identify projects that could have a systemic impact on their target populations if implemented at the national level. "Our programs at Rice have just finished their evaluation," Tapia said. "The results are guiding our efforts to chronicle them so they can be replicated around the country."

The Mathematics and Computational Science Awareness (MCSA) workshop series has won community acclaim, including a 1997 Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement for Tapia. The award is presented annually to individuals who have mentored significant numbers of underrepresented students in science and engineering, and who have affected the climate of a department, college, or institution so as to significantly increase the diversity of students pursuing and completing doctoral studies.

MCSA, to be held July 6-17, brings together K-12 mathematics and science teachers, principals, and counselors to provide them with tools to teach and counsel with increased authority and effectiveness through an understanding of computational science. The workshops address the role of mathematics and computational science in the world; the United States' position in productivity and research relative to foreign countries'; the scarcity of American graduate students in mathematics and science; the job market in science, engineering, and mathematics; and minority issues, such as the lack of minority representation, opportunities for minorities, and techniques for counseling, motivating, and teaching minorities.

GirlTECH was designed to raise awareness of the underrepresentation of women in the sciences. Once educators become sensitive to the issue, they may adapt their curriculum to encourage females to persevere in their studies in male-dominated fields.

"This summer we're pairing the MCSA project with GirlTECH and holding them concurrently,' said Cynthia Lanius, CRPC's associate director for Education, Outreach, and Training and one of GirlTECH's designers. "Participants will attend both workshops and be exposed to all the MCSA content about computational science and multicultural sensitivity, plus skills building and female representation issues from the GirlTECH workshop."

Graduate student in the Rice University Computational and Applied Mathematics (CAAM) Department and a participant in the Spend a Summer with a Scientist (SaS) program, Regina Hill speaks on her successful efforts to solve the wave equation using the finite element method with mass lumping. Professor William Symes of the CAAM Department was her mentor.
Teachers involved in GirlTECH receive Rice University Internet accounts, software for Internet access, and intensive computer technology training from master teachers. They learn how to use online resources as research, teaching, and collaboration tools, to design and publish Web-based math and science lessons, and to create home pages for their schools and themselves. The teachers explore diversity and representation issues through presentations and group discussions on teacher practices that impact girls' interests in computers, learn about research in the computational sciences, and hear what business and industry leaders expect of students for the 21st century. To spread this new knowledge, the teachers also become members of a teachers' technology electronic support group that communicates throughout the year, establish a student technology project on their campuses, and make a one-year commitment to pursue advanced training and to integrate technology into their classrooms.

In the SaS program, high school students, undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty are incorporated into a matrix of mentorships. "This is a unique and very successful program," said Baine Alexander, associate director of the LEAD Center who headed up the evaluation of SaS. "Nearly two-thirds of undergraduate participants enrolled in graduate or professional school, and one-third found employment in a computer science-related field after graduation." Among graduate students, 27% received their doctorate, 13% left with their master's degree, 17%, obtained their master's degree and are still enrolled, and 40% are still working toward advanced degrees.

SaS began in 1989 and has worked with more than 70 students. Minority students of all levels participate in university activities and work for the summer under the guidance of researchers from CRPC, Rice, and the Keck Center for Computational Biology.

Beyond the research component, the LEAD Center's evaluation shows that a critical element to SaS's success has been the forging of an active participant community. "Every participant has a mentor and is a mentor,' Alexander said. "These relationships play a critical role in forming the community. Persistence becomes a responsibility for each student because they know others behind them view them as a role model and are expecting them to succeed."

In addition, through interaction with peers and faculty the program provides professional socialization and removes the mystique of the academic world. The students learn codes of behavior and methods for achieving success.

Lanius is documenting the MCSA, GirlTECH, and SaS projects as a model for initiating these programs throughout the PACI partnerships. Alexander will complete evaluation of the MCSA and GirlTECH programs in June and provide a final cumulative report. "This evaluation is extremely important not just to Tapia and CRPC, but to all other PACI education programs," Alexander said. "The results demonstrate elements for achieving maximum success in any education outreach program-instruction practice, and encouragement." -AF