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New AP computer science course aims to bring more Latinos, women into the field

Computers have completely changed our lives — but what has not changed significantly is that very few Latinos, as well as females and other minorities, enter the field.

“Computer science is transforming our society,” says National Science Foundation Program Officer Dr. Jan Cuny, “but many minorities are not participating, and this is a huge opportunity to have a wider input and help shape changes in our society.”

Cuny is referring to a new National Science Foundation initiative whose goal includes increasing the number — and diversity — of students pursuing computer science degrees.

“To help ensure that more high school students are prepared to pursue post-secondary education in computer science, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is making a four-year, $5.2 million grant to the College Board’s Advanced Placement Program to fund the creation of AP Computer Science Principles,” stated a release by the National Science Foundation and the College Board on June 13.

Computing is one of the fastest job growth areas, but it is failing to attract high school students. Computer science degrees account for only 2.4 percent of the acquired bachelor degrees in 2009-10, and only 8 percent of those accounted by Hispanic students, according to National Science Foundation figures.

The new plan aims to grant thousands of high school students access to computational education. The college-level AP course will focus on advances in science and engineering— preparing them for careers in the science, technology, engineering, or math fields, otherwise known as STEM fields.

Cuny explains that teens are interested in computing in middle school, but schools do not make these classes available in high school, especially in less affluent areas.  “Students in under-served areas don’t have the advantage of taking these courses— and getting more of these students engaged would allow them to be more interested and get their foot in the door, increasing the number of minorities and females in this field,” she explains.

The NSF has found there has been an overall decrease of high school students enrolled in science courses, compared to 20 years ago.  Cuny hopes the AP course will change that.

“Many kids will start taking it and know it’s creative and fun and they will get a chance to see how it can empower them,” she says.

“With AP Computer Science Principles, we hope to engage a larger, more diverse group of students who will go on to pursue computer science learning and the innovative careers associated with computing,” stated Trevor Packer, senior vice president of  the Advanced Placement Program.

Cuny explains that because many high schools currently do not have computer science courses, finding the right mentors and instructors to teach the material is an essential step. “How are we going to find the teachers is the question,” she said. Through an NSF-College Board initiative, a new curriculum will prepare educators for the AP computer science course. The NSF will select 10,000 computer science teachers in 10,000 high schools. The AP course is expected to start in the fall of 2016, and the first AP exam will take place in the spring of 2017.

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