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How the Zicklin School Is Making Computing Classes More Inclusive

May 11, 2022

The Zicklin School of Business, as part of Baruch College, has made diversity, equity, and inclusion a top priority. Faculty at the Paul H. Chook Department of Information Systems and Statistics noticed that while they have been on a positive trajectory in enrolling women in Computer Information Systems (CIS) programs and courses, gender disparities continue to persist  a challenge that many computing and STEM programs face.  

The department has made it a strategic priority to improve gender diversity. Its approach is three-pronged: (1) Redesign early computing courses to make them more inclusive, (2) Provide early access to computing courses, and (3) Provide support structures to motivate women to pursue majors and careers in computing.   

Prof. Tracy Henry

Part of the first step was the introduction of a new course, CIS 2300, Programming and Computational Thinking. Its design and development were assisted by a partnership with Break Through Tech AI (formerly known as Women in Tech New York, or WiTNY), which is an initiative of Cornell Tech that has the goal of increasing the number of women graduating with degrees in computer science and related disciplines.  

Prof. Sonali Hazarika

The new course, launched in fall 2019, piloted various pedagogical strategies that are more inclusive, including 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 make a point of  offering examples in class that aren’t related to mathematics.  

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

Aside from the new introductory course, the department is now conducting a deep analysis of the gender distribution of its computing classes, with the aid of a two-year diagnostic grant awarded last fall by the Center for Inclusive Computing at Northeastern University in Boston. The grant’s principal investigators are Dr. Jain and her colleagues Tracy Henry, PhD, and Sonali Hazarika, PhD, from the Bert W. Wasserman Department of Economics and Finance. In that capacity, they are gathering and analyzing demographic data over a four-year period (spring 2019 to spring 2023), with the assistance of Fan Feng, a PhD student in information systems.  

An article on the results of the analysis is forthcoming.

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