Dr. Sunita “Sunny” Cooke
MiraCosta College, as part of an ongoing effort to boost the number of women and students of color pursuing STEM-related careers, has embarked on a new partnership with the University of California, Irvine on a Pathways to Computing for Women of Color initiative to open more doors to careers in the computer science industry.
The partnership is aimed at increasing the number of women of color pursuing bachelor’s degrees in computing by providing women of color studying computers science at MiraCosta College with access to professional mentors, industry tours, academic success workshops, conference funding, and a small stipend. Both schools will also further explore transfer agreements that meet the needs of women of color in computing.
“It opens doors to more of our students to not only get accepted into the UC, Irvine program but to also become mentors for MiraCosta College students,” said Nery Chapeton-Lamas, a MiraCosta College computer science professor who chairs the Computer Science Department.
The need is profound. According to the National Science Foundation, women account for less than 18 percent of those earning bachelor’s degrees in computing, and the Integrated Education Data System reports that just 8.4 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in computing went to Latinx students. Initiatives at MiraCosta College, however, are helping to reverse that trend, where more than 60 percent of computer science students are from communities of color and 24.6 percent are female.
“A lot of our time, perhaps a majority of our time, is spent in virtual worlds, so it’s imperative we develop spaces that are representative of our community,” said computer science Professor Michael Paulding.
“A cultural shift is needed to ensure this technology is not relegated to one segment of the population.”
MiraCosta College is in the midst of a three-year, California Education Learning Lab-funded program with Cal State San Marcos that is addressing equity gaps in STEM subjects; in part by redesigning introductory courses in computer sciences, which is when most students who do switch majors make their decision to do so.
MiraCosta College alumna and UC, Irvine computer science junior Yocelyne Mercedes Hernandez said such initiatives are vital in opening doors and diversifying the industry. “There needs to be a pathway for girls and women, especially women of color, to pursue their goals in computer science. There is more work to be done to ensure we are helping to uplift our own communities, so they can have opportunities to become mentors and leaders in the tech field.”
Hernandez is doing her part. She was heavily involved with the MiraCosta College EChALE STEM (Empowering Chicanx And Latinx in Exploring STEM) club and currently serves as a tutor at the MiraCosta College STEM Center. Friends involved with the Computer Science Club introduced her to a Research Experience for Undergraduates program sponsored by the National Science Foundation at UC, Irvine, which led her to apply to the university.
“Having on-campus connections was important,” said Hernandez, who hopes to teach computer science at MiraCosta College after earning a master’s degree and perhaps a Ph.D. “It’s from having those connections with people, who have the same interests as you, that you learn about the opportunities that are out there.”