Cal Poly to Expand Computing Opportunities to Students with Help from More than $430,000 in Grants

The funding is part of a $1.55 million National Science Foundation package that is a collaborative effort among half a dozen schools across the nation — including three on the Central Coast

 Data Science Corps, which will fund a Computing for All course that stresses the computational aspects of data analysis and statistical inference.

SAN LUIS OBISPO — With more than $430,000 in grant funds, Cal Poly plans to expand computing class offerings across the campus, a move expected to add needed diversity to computer science courses.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded $1.55 million in a pair of grants for a collaborative effort involving Cal Poly’s College of Engineering and several other universities and community colleges.

One grant, titled Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Computing in Undergraduate Education, will help develop and pilot a Computing for All course sequence at Cal Poly, the lead campus, and its partner institutions, UC Santa Barbara, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and South Carolina’s College of Charleston. The proposal targets students who traditionally do not take computing coursework in college.

“The basic idea is to create a new course that would allow for broad participation in computation from across campus,” said Bruce DeBruhl, an assistant professor in Cal Poly’s Computer Science and Software Engineering Department (CSSE). “There will be a little programming, but it’s primarily not a programming class.”

CSSE faculty members Zoë Wood and Aaron Keen will lead the design of the course, which will explore how students should think about computers, with an ethical component designed by Zach Rentz, a philosophy faculty member.

“The idea of doing computing without considering the ramifications to society, to individuals and to the world is dangerous,” DeBruhl said, noting that biases exist in algorithms just as they do in human behavior. “Because of that, it is really important in designing this course that we work with people who are experts in the field of how to make ethical decisions in a digital world.”

Increasingly, more careers are using computing, DeBruhl said — including agricultural professionals moving toward automation, artists using digital means for art, and sociological researchers who use statistical computations to analyze data.

The first grant will stress the foundations of computer science. The second, titled Harnessing the Data Revolution: Data Science Corps, is expected to fund another Computing for All course — one that stresses the computational aspects of data analysis and statistical inference, said Alexander Dekhtyar, a professor in the CSSE Department, who is co-principal investigator for both grants.

“The two proposals have a nice synergy when it comes to ‘Computing for All’ coursework development,” Dekhtyar said.

UC Santa Barbara is the lead on the second grant, which includes partners Santa Barbara City College and California State University at San Bernardino.

Participating schools will work together and share information for both grants.

An additional benefit of these grant-funded courses, said Dekhtyar, is that they will expand the number of majors enrolling in the classes and likely add more underrepresented students to the field — priorities for both the CSSE Department and Cal Poly as a whole.

The second grant will also create the Central Coast Data Science Partnership, promoting data science through academic scholarships and an upper division course. Meanwhile, Cal Poly, which already features a data science capstone, will assist UC Santa Barbara in creating one.

The second grant addresses students who are seeking careers in data science, those who conduct research in their field and want additional data science training, and newer students who have no data science background.

Jonathan Ventura (CSSE) is the primary investigator for the second grant, along with co-PI Dekhtyar, Foaad Khosmood (both CSSE), Hunter Glanz and Dennis Sun (Statistics). Lubomir Stanchev (CSSE) is senior personnel. 

DeBruhl is the PI for the first grant, with Dekhtyar, Keen, Ventura and Wood serving as co-PIs.

The NSF is a federal government agency that supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering.

In photo at the top, Lubomir Stanchev, a professor in the Computer Science and Software Engineering Department, points to a laptop while working with students on a project with the California Energy Commission and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Stanchev (CSSE) is senior personnel on a National Science Federation grant titled Harnessing the Data Revolution: Data Science Corps, which will fund a Computing for All course that stresses the computational aspects of data analysis and statistical inference.

Contact: Pat Pemberton
805-756-7402, 805-235-0555

October 4, 2019

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