For years, science and engineering educators, social scientists, industry leaders and policymakers in Massachusetts have struggled to expand and diversify the STEM workforce, each coming at the problem from different disciplinary and institutional perspectives, says professor of psychology Nilanjana â€œBujuâ€� Dasgupta, director of the campusâ€™s Institute of Diversity Sciences (IDS).
With a recent three-year, $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and IDS affiliates, she has created a team of leaders across the Commonwealth â€œto break down these silos and build a multi-institutional partnership,â€� she says. This research-practice partnership will connect educators who teach computer science and engineering, social scientists who study barriers facing students and their solutions, for example, she points out. It will also reach out to education staff who provide out-of-class support, outreach organizations offering out-of-school learning opportunities, and industry partners who hire and develop talent in technology and engineering.
Dasgupta hopes this state-wide network project, which she has dubbed REBL for Research, Educator and Business Leadersâ€™ network, can serve as a model for states across the nation. â€œOur goal is to create an open and vibrant network that brings us out of our silos. We welcome new people into our network who are passionate about increasing access and opportunity for underrepresented students in computer science and engineering fields. If this describes you, come join us.â€�
Other members of the leadership team are Laura Haas, dean of the College of Information and Computer Science, Fred Martin, associate dean of UMass Lowellâ€™s College of Information and Computer Science, professor of engineering Raymond Laoulache, associate dean for student success at UMass Dartmouth, and Ping Chen, associate professor of computer science at UMass Boston. They will work with stakeholders from high schools and community colleges across the state, the MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs, Boston Museum of Science, Girls, Inc. of the Valley, and several technology and engineering industry partners.
Dasgupta says, â€œThis team aims to develop a research-practice learning community of approximately 100 people from all stakeholder groups. A key focus for our activities will be to identify effective solutions that help students thrive as they transition from high school to higher education in technology or engineering, or from higher education to the workforce in these fields; to replicate and scale successful solutions across institutions; and to facilitate new collaborations between practitioners and researchers that tackle knowledge gaps in computer science and engineering education, outreach, and workforce development.
She adds that students themselves will play an active role in the network and their experiences will inform the learning community. They will have access to mentoring opportunities to develop professional networks in industry and academia, to get career advice navigating obstacles and to develop ideas for independent projects, masterâ€™s theses or dissertations. For more, contact IDS program manager Leyla Keough at [email protected].