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NMSU leads southwest region alliance in new NSF initiative

  • By Minerva Baumann
  • 575-646-7566
  • mbauma46@nmsu.edu
  • Sep 10, 2018
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New Mexico State University is among a handful of universities across the country to receive grants that represent the next major step for the National Science Foundation INCLUDES program – the development of a national network of alliances to enhance U.S. leadership in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by broadening participation in those disciplines.

The alliance of which NMSU is part, called CAHSI INCLUDES, will create hubs throughout the country to expand the NSF’s Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (INCLUDES) program, with a specific focus on promoting computer science education at primarily Hispanic-Serving Institutions. NMSU is the lead institution for the southwest region of the CAHSI INCLUDES alliance, which includes Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

“The INCLUDES program started with small pilots for two years,” explained Enrico Pontelli, NMSU lead for the CAHSI INCLUDES alliance. “They wanted to plant a seed to create alliances so people would come together and start aligning existing initiatives and interests. We had one of these pilots in the first year and that’s what we did. We concentrated on the southwest and how to bring more institutions on board and we reached out to community colleges with great success. For example, here locally DACC, NMSU-Alamogordo, and EPCC came on board and it was great.”

The Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions (CAHSI), which includes NMSU, University of Texas at El Paso and more than 40 other institutions, will serve as the backbone for this new alliance. The CAHSI organization has been active for more than 10 years, investigating and promoting evidence-based practices to ensure the success of students at Hispanic-Serving Institutions in the areas of computing and computational sciences.

The entire award is $9.9 million and will allow the CAHSI INCLUDES Alliance to be developed. The award will be split among the four regions that compose the CAHSI INCLUDES alliance – California, Southwest, Southeast, and Northeast. The CAHSI INCLUDES alliance is one of five alliances that NSF will fund through the INCLUDES program, and these alliances will coordinate their activities through a Coordination Hub, which will function as a backbone organization for the entire NSF INCLUDES national network.

NMSU’s award for the southwest region is $1.3 million. The alliance overall goal is to ensure Hispanics comprise 20 percent of graduates in computing disciplines nationally by 2030.

“The emphasis is on Hispanic students – as they are severely underrepresented in the field of computing ¬¬¬– but we have learned quickly that once you start addressing the needs of a particular segment of the population you end up addressing the needs of every student,” said Pontelli. “The fact that NMSU was among those selected for this program means we are the face of inclusion for NSF nationwide. And what’s amazing is these alliances are not just in computer science but in any NSF supported discipline.”

The funding will be used for infrastructure to create opportunities for institutions in the region to share experiences, to work together through workshops, meetings and regular communications between institutions. The initiative will include summits to expose students to different types of professional development as well as bringing industry representatives to the table to talk to students about their expectations.

Pontelli explained each region in the CAHSI INCLUDES alliance will have a connector to facilitate communications among institutions. NMSU’s connector is Raena Cota, who will serve as program manager for NMSU’s NSF award. Cota has been involved in programs that emphasize K-12 participation in STEM and computing at NMSU for more than 8 years. She is already looking forward toward the first big event, a conference in October called HENAAC Great Minds in STEM, which she and students will attend.

“That will be the first summit for this group,” Cota said. “Just bringing in the K-12 community is going to be a big thing for us because we’ve been doing these K-12 initiatives for more than 10 years.

“We’ll be recruiting new students to participate in our programs, but we already have CAHSI scholars, who are undergrads and grads that have been involved in communication and outreach in the communities. We also have outstanding graduates of CAHSI. Bringing those students back who’ve been through the CAHSI program is a part of it but we also want to recruit students with outreach experience to help current students and other students feel comfortable in computing.”

For decades, NSF and its partners have sought to create opportunities in STEM for all U.S. residents, ensuring that no matter who they are or where they come from, they have access to education and employment.

“Considering this award and the NSF Hispanic Serving Institution Resource Hub award NMSU recently received, it’s obvious that the NSF is paying attention to Hispanic populations across the country. We are excited that NMSU is at the forefront of this initiative as a Hispanic Serving Institution meeting the needs of our student population.”