Diversity in STEM spheres, specifically that of computer science is one that has been a primary discussion point at the Institute when it comes to dialogue about inclusivity and accessibility for students. Tech is aiding in the fight against educational disparities in Atlanta from a technological standpoint through the Constellations Center for Equity in Computing (CCEC).
The CCEC is a Tech-based organization that seeks to promote equal access to educational resources about coding working with other computer science organizations to provide a multitude of resources to the community. Per their mission statement, “The center’s mission is to ensure that all students — especially students of color, women and others underserved in K-12 and post-secondary institutions — have access to quality computer science education, a fundamental life skill in the 21st century.”
The chief initiative of CCEC is the Computing Equity Project. The project partners a school with a research fellow from Constellations who trains teachers and helps to bring Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science courses to their school.
Fellows provide help and professional development to computer science teachers to strengthen their knowledge and ability to teach these courses.
Last year, the Georgia Senate passed Georgia Senate Bill 108, which is a bill that will require all middle and high schools in the state to offer at least one computer science class. Many Georgia schools still lack the resources to accomplish this goal, which is where CCEC steps in. Communications Officer Charde Brown described the project’s impact.
“This is our strategy to help increase the number of schools offering CS (computer science) courses, support the schools where they are lacking and basically provide an environment where they have access to help if they need it,… which has grown from a very genuine need in the community,” she said.
The initiative’s professional development program, called “Teacher Professional Development Summits” occurs once every year where teachers advance their knowledge base in computer science principles and pedagogy. They collaborate with other computer science equity organizations, such as Computer Science for Georgia and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), to develop engaging summits and curriculum resources for Atlanta teachers.
There are multiple projects under CCEC that aim to promote diversity in computing. DataWorks provides paid computer science courses for young adults from low-income communities of color, which qualifies them for an array of high-paying employment opportunities.
Professionals from CCEC also organize educational summer camps for elementary-aged youth each year. The program is currently on pause, as they are developing a plan to expand into areas with less access to technology. In fact, last year, they held one in Metro Atlanta, one in Jefferson County, Georgia and one in the outside of the mainland United States. Brown recounts her experiences in the Virgin Islands, saying they “worked with the University of the Virgin Islands, which is the only HBCU outside of the US, and that was really powerful. We worked with [hardware companies] like BirdBrain Technologies and Chibitronics to create immersive programming for the kids.”
Computer science education in primary and secondary schools is a critical need for students in the 21st century.
As communities becomes more tech savvy, the advantages of a computer science degree, along with job opportunities for college graduates, continues to grow.
According to the Georgia Bureau of Labor, they expect employment in computer and information technology occupations to grow 15% between now and 2031, which is much faster than average. Despite significant developments in the industry, Georgia’s development and funding of computer science education in public schools remains stagnant.
Per code.org, only 35% of Georgia high schools with AP programs offered an AP computer science class, compared to the nationwide average of 66%.
Disparities in Georgia’s public education systems extend to computer science, causing low-income communities of color to receive little to no computer science education.
Out of all the students who took computer science exams in Georgia last year, only 29% were women and less than 10 were Black or Hispanic. This disparity causes minority groups to be underrepresented in the computer science industry, which leads to discrimination in the tech industry, which can often lead to bias being codified within new technology.
“It’s the little things,” said Brown, “like going to wash my hands and [a sink] does not turn on for me because it can not sense my hands. I don’t even think the people that made it had thought, and they likely assumed that since it worked for them, the technology would work for everyone else. When we start to realize that this is happening and are not doing anything to diversify and rectify the issue, then it becomes a problem. A lack of access to computing is the
source of this problem.” CCEC’s efforts address the lack of equity in Atlanta’s tech industry by equipping minority communities with the skills they need to succeed. They advance the notions of diversity, equity and inclusion to become tenets that strengthen the fabric of modern society. To learn more about the Constellations Center for Equity in Computing, follow their Twitter or Instagram, @gt_ccec, or visit their website at constellations.gatech.edu.