Wayne State University

Aim Higher

Dr. Brockmeyer leads WSU and Focus: HOPE outreach program; African-American enrollment in computer science courses more than triple since 2004

Posted on: Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A collaboration between Wayne State University and Focus: HOPE has more than tripled both the number of African-American undergraduates enrolled in computer science courses and the number of African-American declared computer science majors at WSU since 2004. The Information Management and Systems Engineering (IMSE) program, which began in 2005, addresses the severe under-representation of minorities, women and first-generation college students pursuing degrees in computing and information technology (IT). The project is supported by the National Science Foundation's Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) and Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) programs.

The IMSE program guides and supports students through the completion of a college degree through tutoring, supplemental education support and part-time IT positions at leading Detroit-area companies. "The demand for IT professionals is growing rapidly, yet minorities and women are dramatically unrepresented in the field," said Monica Brockmeyer, Ph.D., associate professor of computer science in WSU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Farmington Hills, Mich., resident and director of the IMSE program at WSU. "Our goal is to spark the interest of under-represented groups and provide the tools for staying persistent in the pursuit of a degree."

The program's students are graduates of Focus: HOPE's IT certificate program, which provides technical training in computing skills. When they enter the IMSE program, they participate in the IMSE Bridge, a college preparation course that equips students that have had inadequate or fragmented secondary educations with competitive, college-entry skills, before coming to Wayne State University. The rest of the IMSE program continues Focus: HOPE's hands-on, group-oriented approach to education, with an emphasis on real-world applications of information technology.

The IMSE program also works to foster a "growth mindset," - the understanding that intelligence is not a fixed attribute, but one that grows with work and effort, like a muscle. This is done through its rigorous approach to education by tutors, mentors and instructors who have similar backgrounds and are successful in the IT fields.
"There comes a point for every student where their studies become difficult," Brockmeyer said. For underrepresented students it can be worse, because they may self-consciously look around and say, ‘There aren't too many people here like me, so maybe I'm not meant to do this.'

"We try to teach the students that it's normal to have a hard time - it doesn't mean anything is wrong with you. This knowledge is especially effective when it comes from teachers that double as role models for students," Brockmeyer said.

As the program moves through its fourth year, Brockmeyer is joined by Rusty McIntyre, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology in WSU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, to conduct research on countering stereotypes with role models. Brockmeyer said the addition of this research will help expand on IMSE's success. "The computer science program at Wayne State is a great laboratory for exploring techniques that will increase student's persistence in achieving a career in computing and IT fields. We're looking forward to refining our approach so the program will become even more effective."