San Marcos,
14:00 PM

$1M Grant Will Help Low-Income Computer Science Students

By David Ogul

Talk about leveling the playing field.

Cal State San Marcos, determined to boost academic success and job readiness of computer science majors from low-income families, has secured a five-year, $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to fund scholarships, workshops, mentors and an abundance of networking opportunities to help students land valuable internships and reach their career goals.

“For a lot of these students, the lack of academic and professional networking makes it difficult for them to find a job in their field upon graduation,” said Dr. Youwen Ouyang, the grant’s principal investigator and chair of CSUSM’s Computer Science Department. “We’re hoping this program will help them build social capital, confidence in their technical skills and a strong portfolio to be employable.”

Low-income students are the focus because research shows students lacking financial security don’t have the same level of support as other socioeconomic groups, as they are more likely to live at home with family and thus be less incorporated into campus life. Exacerbating the handicap is that 70 percent of all computer science majors surveyed by CSUSM are working to support themselves through jobs not related to their field of study.

This National Science Foundation grant addresses those economic challenges by providing selected students annual $5,000 scholarships for two years. Other strategies include a Fab Friday program, which will create an on-campus makerspace where teams of students can fabricate computing solutions for real-world projects and challenges presented by community and industry partners.

Connecting with resources from the community and industry, Ouyang said, will increase students’ chances of landing an internship while still at CSUSM and finding a job once they graduate.

“It’s a matter of giving students coming from low-income families the resources that create opportunities to succeed,” said Dr. Marisol Clark-Ibáñez, sociology professor and faculty director of the National Latino Research Center, who is serving as a co-principal investigator on the grant, along with Dr. Geoffrey Gilmore, associate vice president of Student Academic Support Services.

Sixty computer science majors will take part in the program during their sophomore and junior years, a period in which research shows challenges students to stay engaged and persist in their field of study, Gilmore said. The first cohort of eight students will be selected this fall, followed by cohorts of 16, 16 and 20 students the following years.

Returns on the investment could be profound. Computer and information research scientists are earning an average wage of more than $116,000 in San Diego County, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Computer systems analysts are earning more than $95,000 annually, and computer programmers are earning in excess of $82,000.