The Oakland Post

Professor receives grant to promote computer science among African-American girls

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Professor receives grant to promote computer science among African-American girls

courtesy of Martha Escobar

courtesy of Martha Escobar

courtesy of Martha Escobar

Laurel Kraus, Managing Editor

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As an associate professor in the department of psychology at Oakland University, Martha Escobar, Ph.D., has always had a passion for educating underrepresented minorities, but only began delving into the research field about six or seven years ago.

“One of the things that we would like to do is to make science truly accessible to those individuals,” she said. “Finding those individuals that have the talent and the passion and the motivation, and giving them the tools to develop that talent, that passion and that motivation into something that becomes a career down the road.”

Keeping with this plan, Escobar recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation enabling OU to partner with the University of Alabama and Tuskegee University, and to create a three-year program in the rural areas of Alabama, educating African-American girls in high school in the computer sciences.

The total award of $1,180,644, with $192,231 going to OU, will help fund an intensive residential summer experience with project-based learning, such as programing software and robots, which the students will continue working on throughout the school year. Recruiting of students will begin in the spring of 2019, with the program starting in summer of 2019.

“Our goal is to increase the representation of African-American girls in computer science,” Escobar said. “Currently, despite the fact that all young people recognize and acknowledge that computers are relevant to daily life, they don’t necessarily seek to further their knowledge in computer science or enter computer science related careers.”

According to Escobar, this can be measured by looking at how many high school junior and senior students are interested in taking the advanced placement computer science principles class. She reports these numbers are very low, especially for girls, and even more so for African-American girls.

The program should help young girls in the computer science principles class as well as give them the confidence and background knowledge to succeed in other areas of the field.

The success of this program will be measured through how many of the girls take the computer science principles class and what their scores are, how it may affect their grades in other STEM courses and if they ambassadors to their classmates.

“We want to see whether attitudes toward computing, confidence in computers and efficiency with computers is going to change in these girls as a result of being a part of this program,” Escobar said.

She reported that they are currently recruiting teachers for this program and are hoping to recruit one graduate student from OU as well. She noted they are always open to undergraduate students interested in helping with design of the research and data collection and analysis.

Escobar is also involved with several other current ongoing projects with young faculty, college students and middle school students as well.

“It is really rewarding to see, especially when we’re dealing with some of the younger individuals, they have all of these dreams and they have all these ideas, and they finally have some of the tools and some of the support to get them realized,” Escobar said.

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Professor receives grant to promote computer science among African-American girls