STEM grant encourages woman in computer science

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Computer Science Department Chair, Jackie Kuehn, greets Mike Gaudette, evaluator from the US Department of Education, upon his visit to the Computer Science lab.

Linda Sturesson, Staff Writer

A $4 million grant, the largest received in City College’s history, put chair of the computer science department on a mission to increase diversity of students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields and create transfer possibilities.

In September of last year, City College was given The Hispanic Serving Institution Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (HSI, STEM) grant by the U.S. Department of Education. The grant pays special attention to women, Hispanics and low-income students.

“Over the next few years, we’re hoping to see more women,” said Jacqueline Kuehn, chair of the computer science department, said. “I teach Assembly Language and there have been times where I look out and I’m the only woman in the class, so we need to really address that and I’m really excited about it.”

On Wednesday, the external evaluator from the U.S Department of Education, Mike Gaudette, visited the computer science lab to observe how the money is being spent.

“We got very positive feedback [from Gaudette] during the exit interview with our President and Executive Vice President,” said Ignacio Alarcon, Project Director and manager of the grant.

So far, the money has been used to upgrade computers so students are able to utilize the latest software available. If not for the grant, the department would still be using five-year-old equipment.

“Whenever new programs came out, they wouldn’t work on the old machines,” Kuehn said. “And now, we can really step it up and keep pace with the technology. We’re very fortunate.”

The grant is not only spent on software and computers, but on transferring possibilities as well. The STEM departments are using it to ensure that the computer science courses transfer to four-year universities. They are going to the California State University, Channel Islands on Oct. 19, to discuss their collaboration.

“We don’t want people wasting their time,” Kuehn said. “Low income students can’t afford to be here for four years so we are trying to make it easier for them to transfer, so they can see a goal, and if you don’t know where that goal is, you kind of lose heart.”

Mikaela Camudio, 17, is one of the few women at City College majoring in computer science.

“I have two jobs and work 80 hours a week, and I take three courses at City College,” she said. “Yeah, I kick some butt, man.”

The computer science department spent about $40,000 to upgrade 26 computer science lab computers. They are now capable for software updates for the latest mobile devices and desktop computers. 

Another $40,000 to 50,000 will be spent upgrading the rest of the computers over the next two years.

“Generally, the computers offered [by City College] aren’t acceptable for our department and the STEM grant has brought it up to our requirements,” said assistant professor Stephen Strenn, who originally requested the funding.

Approximately $1,200 will be spent in support of City College’s Programming Contest teams over the next four years. Jackie Kuehn is this year’s coach and will send about nine students to compete against four-year colleges in southern California on Nov. 10.

“It’s just inspiring because of the diversity,” Kuehn said. “Last year, we had two women programmers on the team.”