CSE’s Christine Alvarado Receives NSF Grant to Study Equity in Computer Science Education

Oct 15, 2020
Christine Alvarado, Jacobs School of Engineering associate dean for students and CSE teaching professor, will investigate why some groups of students have better access to CS education than others.

By Josh Baxt 

UC San Diego Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) Professor Christine Alvarado and colleagues at three other Southern California schools have received a $1.3 million National Science Foundation grant to investigate how gender, ethnicity and other factors impact people who want to study computer science. Led by Anna Bargagliotti, a professor at Loyola Marymount University, the researchers will study application, admission and retention data to better understand how demographics and pre-college preparation influence student success.

“We already know the demographics among computer science students is heavily skewed by gender and race,” said Alvarado, Jacobs School of Engineering Associate Dean for Students and CSE teaching professor. “But we don’t have a clear picture how that happens. How do these imbalances originate and how do they get worse?”

Entitled Collaborative Research: Equity of Access to Computer Science: Factors Impacting the Characteristics and Success of Undergraduate CS Majors, the project will focus on how gender, race/ethnicity, first-generation status and pre-college preparation influence which students enter computer science programs and who gets a degree.  

In addition to Alvarado and Bargagliotti, other researchers on the project include Jelena Trajkovic at California State University Long Beach and Cassandra Guarino at 

UC Riverside. The team will draw on ten years of application and admissions data from their respective universities to illuminate how campus policies and other factors influence student success and develop new approaches that could benefit students in underserved communities.

Specifically, the researchers will seek to answer several questions: Who applies for computer science majors and are those demographics changing? Which students are admitted? How do students who succeed and earn their degrees differ from those who do not?

“We want to understand why some groups of students have better access to CS education than others and which factors are driving exclusion,” said Alvarado. “Because we have such detailed, longitudinal data to investigate, we should gain a better understanding than previous studies, and we believe this could have a significant impact on future students.”