The UBC Computer Science department serves around 2,500 undergraduate students and consists of around 65 faculty members and 50 staff members. The department has a long history of work in equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) dating back 20 years, primarily with a focus on gender. The department also has a longstanding and highly engaged alumni group that participates in the department’s EDI efforts. In 2016, the Focus on Women in Computer Science (FoWCS) Committee was expanded to become the Committee for Outreach, Diversity, and Equity (CODE). Department-based affinity group s for marginalized communities were also introduced to the committee in 2019.
CODE’s The committee has sought to incorporate EDI values into the department outreach process to increase enrollment of women and marginalized groups in the department. For the purpose of this case study, the focus will be on UBC’s computer science department’s implementation and success with alumni engagement.
EDI initiative(s) implemented
The department took a comprehensive approach to their initiative . CODE used a combination of strategies which included engaging alumni and local tech companies to recruit underrepresented groups, and engaging alumni as mentors and role models. In addition to engaging alumni, the department also implemented the following strategies:
• Launching combined programs with other disciplines/faculties
• Building inclusive teaching in curriculum
• Providing student support programs and building communities
• Tracking statistics
• Ensuring diversity in first year faculty and TAs
• Fostering student leaders
• Reaching out to underrepresented groups in high school
• Offering scholarships and awards to underrepresented groups
• Monitoring non-inclusive policies and behaviors
In particular, their approach to alumni engagement in EDI work has been a key component of their recruitment & retention programs. The computer science department aims to recruit underrepresented groups as first year students and host a variety of events to support them including “Tech Crawl”, where 10 tech companies host two- to three-hour events for first year women students who have not yet decided on a major.
The department has an extensive alumni network with 150-200 alumni who are active mentors in the Computer Science Tri-Mentoring Program. This program serves around 300 students, 40 per cent of which are women. The department engages alumni currently working in tech to mentor students, encourage companies to offer scholarships to equity-deserving student groups, become panelists at events, coach students on projects, etc. The department is successful in keeping alumni involved (some for over 15 years) by offering them a chance to interact with researchers, hosting alumni pub nights, and maintaining a very strong network.
Tracking progress and learning
EDI strategy implementation has insulated the Computer Science Department against the historical declines in gender diversity seen across the continent. That said, the proportion of women entering the program is still not at parity, so the department maintains its commitment to improvement. By focusing on community building and other retention activities, they have been able to reduce attrition/increase retention so that the proportion of women students graduating is now equal or above the proportion of women students who enter the program.
The department faces ongoing challenges such as needing to create diverse pathways into computer science as well as recruiting/supporting diverse faculty and staff. The model for alumni engagement could be implemented in other departments within UBC’s Faculty of Science that could benefit from retention and a bolstered sense of community. The department observed that what made the biggest difference was engaging alumni and allowing this group to aid in recruitment and retention. They believe this has helped create a strong sense of community in the program, and a long-term view of the field by those who enroll.
Michele Ng, Project Coordinator, Department of Computer Science
YEAR OF IMPLEMENTATION