Design to Disrupt: Making Space for Every Student in CS

CSforALL
CSforALL
Feb 24, 2020 · 5 min read

As #BlackHistoryMonth draws to a close and #WomenHistoryMonth begins, Dr. Nicki Washington illustrates Computer Science with the whom it should represent, along with the why these identities matter.

Photo Credit: Code.org

In 2011, my team of six instructors led a yearlong CS course for 120 Black/Latinx middle-school students in Washington, DC. After first-day introductions, we asked them to name a computer scientist. Despite six Black men/women in front of them, we heard only three names: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg. It was then that I realized if they didn’t see us as computer scientists, then how would they ever be able to see themselves as one? We knew we had work to do.

We spent the entire year dismantling the narrative that CS was restricted to White and Asian men and reinforcing how not only were they computer scientists, but also change agents. Students learned much more than what CS was, but also whom it should represent and why these identities mattered.

We were fortunate to have a team that didn’t fit the “traditional” narrative leading that effort. However, this won’t always be the case. As we continue to make strides in CS education, the following strategies can help to ensure that the who and why are prioritized, regardless of the student or instructor.

“See” The Students

Be Audacious

Teach Students Cultural Competence

Seek, Trust, and Credit The Expertise of People from Marginalized Groups

Intention != Impact

We should always choose to disrupt.

About the Author: Dr. Nicki Washington is an associate professor of computer science and the author of Unapologetically Dope: Lessons for Black Women and Girls on Surviving and Thriving in the Tech Field. Described as her “love letter to Black women and girls,” Unapologetically Dope discusses the unspoken lessons that are necessary to persist in computing+tech, yet are never taught in classes or textbooks (e.g. tackling imposter syndrome, finding allies, and assembling one’s tribe). She previously spent nine years at Howard University as the first Black female faculty member in the Department of Computer Science. Her professional experience also includes The Aerospace Corporation and IBM.

Dr. Washington has led partnerships with the Howard University Middle School of Math and Science, Google, Exploring Computer Science, and Washington, DC Public Schools to introduce CS courses and teacher professional development across Washington, DC high schools. She was also a lead writer for the K-12 CS Framework (led by Code.org) and South Carolina K-12 Computer Science and Digital Literacy Standards.

At the undergraduate and industry levels, Dr. Washington’s efforts to recruit and retain students/graduates of color in computing include creating and implementing the first Googler-in-Residence program at Howard University in 2013. This project led to Googler-in-Residence implementations at other HBCUs (including Morehouse, Spelman, NC A&T, Fisk, and Hampton). Her current work focuses on addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion issues in the tech industry by measuring and improving the cultural competence of students in undergraduate computing departments nationwide, including the development of assessments and courses dedicated to this work.

She is a graduate of Johnson C. Smith University (B.S., ’00) and North Carolina State University (M.S., ’02; Ph.D., ’05), becoming the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. at the university and 2019 Computer Science Hall of Fame Inductee. She is a native of Durham, NC.

Twitter Handle, @dr_nickiw Website, www.nickiwashington.com

CSforALL Stories

Thoughts & conversations on the movement to bring rigorous…

CSforALL

Written by

CSforALL

The national hub for the Computer Science for All movement, making high-quality computer science education an integral part of K-12 education in the US.

CSforALL Stories

Thoughts & conversations on the movement to bring rigorous, inclusive and sustainable computer science to all US students.

CSforALL

Written by

CSforALL

The national hub for the Computer Science for All movement, making high-quality computer science education an integral part of K-12 education in the US.

CSforALL Stories

Thoughts & conversations on the movement to bring rigorous, inclusive and sustainable computer science to all US students.

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