$4M Grant Aims to Boost Minority Representation in Informatics

A new $4 million grant National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and Ivy Tech Community College seeks to introduce the state’s economically disadvantaged and underrepresented minority students to informatics, a computer science field that involves information processing and the engineering of information systems.

Mathew Palakal, executive associate dean of the IUPUI School of Informatics and Computing, says the grant will help address a gap in the IT workforce while encouraging underrepresented students to pursue a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education.  “It’s an important part of how we reach out and incentivize kids to study IT,” he says.

The grant is also meant build upon the Informatics Diversity-Enhanced Workforce (iDEW) program for high school students. As part of iDEW, kids go through four years of computer science classes and learn HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to build websites and mobile apps. Many also take summer workshops at IUPUI, where they are introduced to game design, virtual reality, and 3D animation and printing. The iDEW program, currently in its second year, has 226 participating high school students.

“The whole idea is persistence over time,” Palakal says. “By their senior year, we hope they’ll continue to college, and this grant will help support that.”

Those who are ready for a four-year college program will go on to IUPUI after high school, and those who aren’t ready can attend Ivy Tech Community College for two years and then transfer to IUPUI. All curricular activities are synchronized between the schools. The goal of the grant, Palakal says, is to place 150 informatics graduates in the IT workforce within five years.

“I look at it like an eight-year pipeline starting from freshman year in high school,” Palakal says. “The arrangement between IUPUI and Ivy Tech will provide a national model for two-year to four-year college transition in the context of STEM scholarships.”

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