Programs for change
Efforts to diversify the SMET workforce include
both formal programs and informal efforts by women, African
Americans, Hispanics, the disabled, and Native Americans in
SMET programs and careers. Charles Isbell was one of only
four African Americans in the computer science program at
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He and his
black colleagues banded together and worked to build a community
for others who would enter the program after them “because
that was something we didn’t have, and it’s important
to have a support network.”
NCSA leads an NSF-funded effort to improve SMET
education by bringing SMET graduate students into junior and
senior high schools to help teachers develop new and dynamic
science curricula and to mentor young students interested
in math and science. This Graduate Teaching Fellowships in
K-12 Education program, which also involves the University
of Alabama campuses at Huntsville and Birmingham, has brought
computational tools like NCSA’s Biology Workbench and
ChemViz into classrooms in Illinois and Alabama.
The Trace Research and Development Center, an
EOT-PACI partner at the University of Wisconsin in Madison,
creates speech-to-text, image-to-speech, and speech-to-signing
translation services for use on the Access Grid. These services
allow hearing- and sight-impaired persons to actively participate
in educational programs and collaborative science projects
conducted over the Access Grid.
NCSA’s Digital Equity Initiatives creates
opportunities for female, African American, Hispanic, and
Native American scientists and engineers to work with Alliance
and NCSA teams. Led by Assistant Director Allison Clark, the
program brings new blood to existing programs and also recruits
new principal investigators who are women or from underrepresented
groups. In its first year, the initiative has recruited three
African American and one new female principal investigator.
The initiative also sponsors the Visiting Scholars Program,
which brings female and underrepresented minority researchers
to NCSA to work with one of the center’s research groups.
Tapia has been developing successful minority
and female computer science and mathematics students for years
by challenging policies that often hold back these students
and by providing mentoring and a strong support community
to offset isolation. The more success he has, the more others
begin to realize that some admissions and testing policies
are, at the least, outdated. At Rice, he explains, administrators
take a “threshold approach,” meaning students
must test at a specific minimum threshold to qualify for entrance.
Above that threshold other factors are considered, such as
community involvement, extracurricular activities, and the
quality of the courses taken at other institutions.
“I don’t believe that tests are
wrong; tests are a valid tool,” says Tapia. “But
let’s look at other things too. There are so many other
things. You lose a lot of very good students, a lot of future
scientists, by looking only at test scores.”
The Institute for African American E-Culture
(iAAEC), led by Giles and supported in part by NSF, works
to deepen and broaden the involvement of African American
communities in creating and using information technology.
Projects range from efforts to decrease the isolation of African
American IT scholars to the development of new distributed
The iAAEC’s work aims to make sure new
technologies are developed to serve all people. Developing
inclusive electronic communities is part of that effort. The
group establishes IT development zones, which join together
people from different academic, economic, and cultural backgrounds
to create information technology together.
The Alliance’s Advanced Networking with
Minority Serving Institutions (AN-MSI) program, funded by
NSF, offers technology training and access to new technologies
to faculty and staff at historically black colleges and universities,
tribal colleges, and Hispanic serving institutions.