With diversity, equity, and inclusion a top priority at Baruch College, faculty in the Zicklin School of Business Paul H. Chook Department of Information Systems and Statistics are working to increase the proportion of women enrolled in computer and information systems (CIS) classes. A partnership with Break Through Tech AI— an initiative of Cornell Tech whose goal is increasing the number of women graduating with degrees in computer science and related disciplines—enabled the launch of a new introductory course, CIS 2300, in the Fall 2019 semester.

The course, entitled Programming and Computational Thinking, deploys inclusive pedagogical strategies, such as live coding in class, programming in pairs, and Parsons coding problems, in which students rearrange blocks of code rather than writing or fixing code. Instructors also provide examples in class that aren’t related to mathematics.

“We use examples from other fields, like biology, history, and linguistics,” explains faculty member Radhika Jain, PhD, who teaches CIS classes, “so students understand that the computational thinking principles used in programming can be applied no matter what their discipline is.”

“There’s this feeling that computing requires a lot of math and is not for everyone,” adds Sonali Hazarika, PhD, executive director of undergraduate programs at the Zicklin School and an associate professor of finance. “[But] given the importance of computing in the world today, it’s a field every student should be exposed to.” It was that philosophy that led the department to remove prerequisites for CIS 2300 as of Fall 2022.

A two-year diagnostic grant from the Center for Inclusive Computing at Northeastern University—with principal investigators Dr. Jain, Dr. Hazarika, and Dr. Tracy Henry from Baruch’s Bert W. Wasserman Department of Economics and Finance—will evaluate the program’s effectiveness. With the assistance of Fan Feng, a doctoral candidate, they are compiling demographic data on enrollment in CIS classes.

After data collection, the team will apply for an implementation grant from the Center for Inclusive Computing that will enable the department to design further interventions to help attract and retain female students. The implications go beyond computing courses, observes Dr. Henry: “Once we figure out what interventions can improve the male-female ratios, we can apply that learning to other STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] disciplines like finance and accountancy, or any field where it’s an issue.”

Sara J. Welch

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