Kent State Involved in Nationwide Project to Broaden Participation in Computer Science

Taylor Williams

Kent State is teaming up with colleges and universities across the nation to broaden participation in Computer Science.

In general, the number of science majors is low due to perceptions that it is too difficult to succeed, issues with gender diversity and the inability for high school credits to carry over to college, said L. Gwenn Volkert, associate professor of computer science at Kent State University.

Volkert has been selected by the National Science Foundation to participate in a national effort aimed at increasing and broadening the participation in computer science.

Professor Volkert started teaching the Introduction to Computer Science, a course directed at the creative side of CS, during Summer 2009 at Kent State, before it became part of a national project.

“This course is on par with an AP Computer Science course,” said Volkert. The AP course is planned be introduced to high schools nationwide in fall 2016.

The introduction courses at the college level have changed, said Robert Walker, director of Digital Sciences at Kent State.

“I used to think computer science was about being stuck in some cubicle, but after taking a CS course, I’ve realized it’s much more applicable,” said Ronnie Exline, a sophomore business major, who thinks the new introduction course will increase numbers.

Walker said courses used to cover a wide variety of information that wasn’t useful for students, but now they “focus on a little bit of introduction and really explain how these concepts can be used.”

Volkert said in her classes, she focuses on data representation, scalability and visualization as well as making assignments relevant to the field, using data involving animals and cooking recipes because they are gender-neutral areas.

“Computer science is always a great option for a minor because it can be applied to any major,” said Walker.

In the Introduction to Computer Science class, Volkert said she has at least 40 majors represented.

As technology changes, Volkert said she feels that her class has to change as well.

“At the beginning of the semester, I took a poll of how many internet-based devices students have,” Volkert said. “I was expecting maybe two. The average was six devices.”

“Last year the university was prepared for students to have tablets, but this year they are bringing smart televisions [like Apple televisions],” said Walker about the increase in technology.

With the increase in new technology, Volkert said there has also been an increase in females and minorities in computer science.

“We have found the number to be increasing in the past two years,” Volkert said.

Volkert said she is hopeful this national project will keep the numbers on the upward trend.

Contact Taylor Williams at [email protected].