The Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions (CAHSI)

Hispanic Community May 2023 PREMIUM
The alliance of Hispanic Serving Institutions (CAHSI), since its founding in 2006, has significantly expanded and consolidated Hispanics’ participation in computer areas.

Written by Ann Q. Gates, and Elsa Villa

In 2004, the Computing Research Association (CRA) held its annual meeting in Snowbird, Utah, to update department chairs in computing on trend data and other computing-related issues. Attending the meeting that year were department chairs from seven Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs): California State University-Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), Florida International University (FIU), New Mexico State University (NMSU), Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC), University of Houston-Downtown (UHD), University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez (UPRM), and The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). These chairs realized they had power in numbers and made a decision: “let’s take each of our homegrown best practices and come together as a unified alliance.” The Computing and Information Science Engineering (CISE) directorate of the National Science Foundation (NSF) had just launched its alliance program to broaden participation in computing, in an effort to meet one of NSF’s goals: accelerate the number of students who enter and complete STEM degrees. UTEP, under the direction of Ann Quiroz Gates, took the lead in writing the successful proposal, with the other six chairs as co-investigators. That funding officially launched the establishment of the Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions (CAHSI) in 2006 to establish a unified voice and consolidate their collective strengths and resources, while bringing in others committed to increasing the number of Hispanics in all computing areas.

Since that time, CAHSI’s reach has dramatically expanded to over 52 four-year colleges and 28 two-year colleges, a growing K-12 community in CS education, industry partners, non-governmental organizations, and national laboratories. This growth can be attributed to its establishment in 2018 as an NSF Eddie Bernice Johnson Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discovers in Engineering and Science (INCLUDES) national alliance. This provided funding for building the infrastructure needed to operate the alliance, using a collective impact framework that set a common agenda and measures, defined communication structures, established a backbone to manage operations, and fostered collaboration centered on mutually reinforcing activities. What sets CAHSI apart from other organizations is its grass-top approach, signature practices, and strategic actions embedded in its academic institutions.

CAHSI is recognized for its signature practices, that focus on retention and advancement in the field; preparation of students for competitive positions in the workforce; and entry into graduate studies if so desired. Peer-Led Team Learning, a proven practice for retention, targets the first three courses in the major. PLTL has significantly contributed to students’ persistence in the program. A reflection from a peer leader elucidates the role of CAHSI in reaching out to first-generation students and building an identity in the field:

“I came to college from parents who never finished high school and basically being the black sheep of [the] family. I started as a major in microbiology, saw friends that were doing computer science and math… I’m always a nervous wreck and panicking about everything that I do, but when I saw friends getting into PLTL and getting to have that reinforcement that they know what they are talking about and knowing what they just learned can help other people. It changed me… because [now] I’m not afraid to try new things even though I think I may fail. [I] think maybe I might want to get a Master’s.”

CAHSI’s Problem-Solving courses are a 1-credit hour and 2-credit hour competency-based course sequence focused on general problem solving, computational thinking, and algorithmic thinking. The course sequence was co-developed with Google, emphasizing problem-based learning and reflective practices on students’ growth as problem solvers and critical thinkers. The course and the CAHSI Coding Clubs, which were started at some institutions, resulted in students’ preparation for competitive job interviews.

The CAHSI Advocates program places student advocates in CAHSI departments with a charge to build community and engage students in co-curricular activities and professional development opportunities. The Scholars program recognizes students who excel in the classroom, extend their technical knowledge outside the classroom, and engage in efforts that have social impact. The Affinity Research Group model is widely adopted, both inside and outside CAHSI and the discipline. It emphasizes the deliberate and intentional development of technical, professional, and team skills, as well as the knowledge required for research and cooperative work. With recent funding from NSF, Google, and the Sloan Foundation, CAHSI has focused on building research capacity of our faculty and students. These investments are based on a shared vision centered on the criticality of inclusion and equity for innovation and discovery, and the importance of broadening STEM participation to maintain our country’s competitive edge.

CAHSI has established a number of partnerships that have resulted in curriculum enhancements at our institutions and workshop offerings that build students’ knowledge and skills in key areas, such as AI, cybersecurity, and data analytics. CAHSI’s partnerships include Google, Microsoft, Army Research Laboratory, Lockheed Martin Corporation, Boeing, Chevron, Oracle, and many others. CAHSI’s longstanding relationship with Great Minds in STEM (GMiS) has also been key in industry investments. Students comment on the impact of the GMiS annual conference:

“I gained a ton of knowledge about computing and what to expect in the software industry.

One of the greatest benefits of attending the GMiS conference was becoming connected with peers who are in the same position as I am. It was helpful to be able to hear their stories and struggles, as well as discuss tactics or approaches for them.”

In the last three years, Google has provided scholarships to 11 Hispanic students at CAHSI institutions who are in the last year of their doctoral studies, and they have provided funding to continue this program going forward. CAHSI graduates have entered positions in academia, high tech corporations, start-up companies, and government entities.

For its work, CAHSI has been recognized by the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics and by Excelencia in Education’s What Works for Latinos in STEM.

Advocates’ Stories

Calicia Perera, NMSU

I am from Albuquerque, New Mexico and I was given the amazing opportunity to work at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California as an electrical engineering associate on the completion of my degree. This opportunity was made possible not only because of my involvement in organizations like CAHSI, but also because of my internships and the experience I gained from them, which I listed on my resume. I am also a member of a group called Young Women in Computing (YWIC), which has provided me with a community of women in STEM and helped me understand the importance of building a supportive community. Through CAHSI, I have attended the GMIS conference for three years, where I have made professional connections and honed my interview skills.

Noel Vargas, UPRM

Through my dedication and hard work, I have been accepted into the Google TechX program, where I am constantly learning and growing in various areas of technology. This program has provided me with invaluable experiences and connections, including exploring various Google technologies, attending panel discussions with Googlers, visiting their headquarters, and meeting amazing students in technology. Alongside this, I am also excited to have landed an SWE internship this summer at Bloomberg, which will allow me to apply my skills in a real-world setting and gain further experience in the tech industry.

Melissa Martinez, CSUDH

After getting the CAHSI Advocate opportunity, slowly but surely, my fear of failure began to dissipate. Getting this opportunity came with attending workshops and helped me realize that it was okay to ask for help when I needed it, and to take advantage of the resources available. I became motivated, and I also started to get more involved in campus organizations, which helped me find a sense of community and belonging. 

Diego A Pérez Morales, UPRRP

The first time that I ever heard about CAHSI was through an online REU for freshman or sophomore students. Back then, I was barely done with my first year of university so the thought of even applying to an opportunity like this was terrifying. In my head, the impostor syndrome started to kick in and made me question a lot of things about myself. However, even though my resume was pretty barebones at that point and I had no previous research experience, I decided to apply to the REU. What was going through my head at the moment was, “Everybody needs to start somewhere, even if I’m currently not in the place where you want to be. If I have an idea of where I want to go, I can get there.” After applying and being accepted to the REU, I realized that, as long as you do the work and put yourself out there, things will work out. After being paired with Dr. Marcelo Sztainberg and doing research with him, that experience set me up to get a lot of other opportunities in both the industry and academia. If it wasn’t because of CAHSI and the exposure they gave me, getting my career started would have been a lot more difficult. 

About the authors

Ann Q. Gates and Elsa Villa are both administrators at CAHSI; Gates as the Executive Director and Elsa Villa in Strategic Initiatives.

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