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Saint Xavier awarded National Science Foundation grant to create computer science scholarships

Thirty scholarships to target underserved students

CHICAGO (Nov. 1, 2004) – Saint Xavier University has received a four-year, $398,672 grant to create 30 scholarships to support underserved students who wish to pursue a computer science education. 

The scholarship program, to be directed by Dr. Florence Appel, associate professor of computer science, will provide approximately thirty students with scholarships of up to $3,125 a year, renewable up to four years. This award, worth $12,500 over the course of four years, can be combined with other forms of financial aid.

To implement the new program, Appel will receive assistance from Dr. Jean Mehta and Dr. Donald Fricker of Saint Xavier’s Department of Mathematics and Computer Science and from Dean of Students John P. Pelrine.

In addition to the financial assistance, students in the scholarship program will receive a rich array of academic and career preparation services including monthly seminars, a comprehensive career counseling program, tutoring, internship and service learning positions, collaborative faculty-student research, support for attendance at computer science conferences, a laptop loaner program and alumni mentoring.

The support activities encompass three main themes, Appel said: sharpening students’ problem-solving abilities; building students’ confidence in their abilities to succeed in a challenging major and exposing students to the breadth of the computer science discipline, the range of career opportunities that exist for them and the variety of skills and strengths required in today’s high-tech workplace.

“Our project has significant intellectual merit and the potential to broadly impact society,” Appel said. “The scarcity of minorities and women in the computer science discipline is a well-documented problem. Our experience in Saint Xavier’s urban setting has taught us that academic institutions must proactively attract and engage underserved students.”

Saint Xavier’s Chicago campus is part of the city’s ethnically diverse south side, with a student body that reflects the demographics of its geographic location. Also, Saint Xavier – founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1846 with a goal of serving women and children – continues to serve a student body that is majority female. The new scholarship program for computer science students will target first-generation college students from populations that are underrepresented in the computer science discipline, including African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, women and the disabled.

According to the American Association of University Women, the number of women graduating in computer sciences and information technology is decreasing despite the area being one of the few career categories that is creating new jobs. According to AAUW, in 1984, female graduates received 37 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer science, compared to 28 percent in 2000. Currently, women constitute only about 20 percent of the information technology professional workforce.

Furthermore, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that only 7.2 percent of all computer scientists are African American and 2.6 percent Latino. A bureau report asserted that technology companies must make a serious commitment to job training programs that target low-income communities, minorities and women, and must aggressively recruit at all skill levels. 

“At a time when many large universities are experiencing a decrease in the number of minority students, Saint Xavier is maintaining healthy minority enrollments, largely due to our strong student support infrastructure,” Appel said.  “In our proposal for this grant, we were able to show the NSF evidence of our institutional commitment to our students' success, and to customize existing student services to the computer science population.”

The scholarship program’s mentor component will serve to retain students who enroll in the computer science major.

“Each student in the program will be assigned a faculty mentor and a student services mentor,” Appel said. “The faculty mentor will be able to provide the student with academic advice and support, while the student services mentor will help students navigate the array of opportunities we provide for them. Students can also meet with these mentors as they work to acquire study skills, need career counseling or 
research internship opportunities.”

The National Science Foundation’s reviewer panel responded positively to Saint Xavier’s grant proposal. “[Saint Xavier University’s] project’s goal is consistent with the mission of the university, which emphasizes a commitment to the underserved,” the panel stated in its summary comments. “The panel was impressed with the existing university support structures and within the proposal, each university program or activity is tied back to the proposed CSEMS project.”

Through the NSF funding, students will also benefit from an expanded laptop loaner program, allowing students without the financial means to use a laptop at no cost. Students in the program will also be able to attend computer science conferences, will receive assistance finding university internship and service-learning opportunities in the computer science field and will participate in faculty-student research collaborations.

For more information on the scholarship program and on Saint Xavier’s computer science undergraduate and graduate programs, please contact Florence Appel at (773) 298-3388 or via email at appel@sxu.edu.