Recruiting and Retaining Students into Computing

NSF LogoThis project (RETAIN) uses a multipronged approach to inspire, increase, educate and retain a large underrepresented pool to pursue degrees for careers in computing and cyber security, a discipline in which there is an acute national demand of professionals. The project RETAIN targets Hispanic students in rural and underrepresented areas who will be taught cyber security beginning with foundation courses, to increase their awareness and demand for this field. It builds a pipeline for underrepresented students who have social, economic, and education needs in computing and cyber security, by partnering with a rural community college (Laredo), an urban community college (San Antonio) and its own students. Building upon strong, collaborative relationships formed between the institutions will contribute to project effectiveness.

The innovative components of this project are (a) increasing retention by incorporating an engaging,  evidence-based model called the Model-Eliciting Activities (MEA), for teaching cyber security concepts in foundation computer science courses at two-year and four-year institutions, and (b) giving the students an edge in the job market by incorporating the cyber security certificate requirements as part of their undergraduate curriculum. The cyber security modules will be integrated into the existing syllabus of several computing courses. Cyber security principles will be incorporated using MEA-a model that has been reported to be effective for STEM disciplines by other NSF researchers. A&M-SA faculty have developed the cyber security modules as part of a National Security Agency (NSA) grant but will incorporate MEA activities into those modules as part of this project to increase the retention of students in lower division courses. A&M-SA will develop the MEA activities and will frequently interact with the community college faculty and students, and train them in summer workshops. Other strategies to facilitate this effort will be to dispel commonly held myths of women in computing by using female leaders in local and regional cyber security organizations as role models, to speak to the students about their careers. Also, female Hispanic students will be provided with funds to go to regional and national conferences focusing on women in computing. To strengthen student marketability in cyber security careers, the NSA Cyber Defense Education Certificate (CDE) courses are included as part of the computing curricula at A&M-SA. Students graduating with computing related degrees can take the NSA certificate courses as part of their curriculum, and upon graduation, receive the CDE Certificate along with their degree-something that employers are seeking.