June 23, 2010
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine:
Computer science launches diversity initiative
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Michaela Pease, a Slippery Rock University computer science major from Columbiana, Ohio, said she is excited about a new diversity initiative in computer science.
"Diversity and gender neutrality are very important because everyone - female or male, regardless of ethnic or national origin - should have an equal chance at the job site," she said. "Other careers have become more diverse, such as the medical field and even auto body careers. There is no reason why computer science can't do the same."
Paul Mullins, SRU professor of computer science, recently obtained a $1,899 grant for a project titled "Creating an Environment Supportive of Diversity in Computing Courses." The project will result in a sample set of assignments that support multiculturalism and gender neutrality for courses across the computing curriculum.
Students will use texts written by women and minorities, create a Web page about a woman or person of color, exchange data with programmers in India and study the example of the late Admiral Grace Hopper (1906-1992), a pioneer computer scientist. Hopper developed the first compiler for a computer programming language and conceived the idea of machine-independent programming languages. Her ideas led to the development of COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages.
"The basic idea is to create an atmosphere that acknowledges diversity," Mullins said.
Pease, who will help Mullins implement the diversity offerings in the fall, said they plan to ask students questions about gender and diversity, such as whether it makes a difference if a professor is a woman or man and whether gender and ethnicity influences their perception of texts and computer languages.
"Many men, I think, feel uncomfortable when they realize women too can talk the lingo," Pease said. "However . . .both females and males are becoming more comfortable talking to the opposite sex when it comes to technology, specially the younger generations. At Slippery Rock University, I always felt that I was an equal."
Eric Thortsen, a computer science major from Altoona, has been hired to review current computer courses to see how well assignments address diversity and to help determine ways for enhancing diversity.
"I think this is a great investment," he said. "I am sensitive to when people are feeling alienated and sensitive to other cultures. Diversity in the classroom prepares us for a world that is undoubtedly global and also strengthens the field of computer science as a wider range of perspectives contribute to its evolution. If the individuals participating in the field account for a more complete picture of humanity, computer science as a whole will address humanity's bigger picture."
The grant came from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education's Frederick Douglass Institute at West Chester University. The institute advances multicultural studies across the curriculum and inspires student achievement.
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.