Justin Gray works during the 2015 National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition. Photo by Scott Ball.
UTSA will set up and run the Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute under a five-year cooperative agreement. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The University of Texas at San Antonio will install $1 million in scholarships to enroll more low-income students, women, and minorities in its computer science program.

UTSA announced Monday it has received a five-year STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math – grant from the National Science Foundation to increase diversity and student success in the field of computer science. Through the program, the university will award 62 undergraduate scholarships, and each student will receive up to $10,000 every academic year.

Drawing women to computer science has historically eluded UTSA, its enrollment numbers oscillating between 85 percent and 90 percent male over the past dozen years.

The university posted its smallest gender gap during that period in Fall 2017 – 84 percent male to 16 percent female, or 1,012 male students and 188 female students.

Nationally, women constitute 25.5 percent of the computer occupations workforce, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Student enrollment in the Computer Science department at UTSA by gender since 2005. Credit: Office of Institutional Research, UTSA.

Myriad reasons surround the “implicit bias” that inhibits female enrollment in computer science programs, said Turgay Korkmaz, associate professor of computer science at UTSA and one of the scholarship program’s leaders. Chief among them, however, is the misconception that computer science requires serious mathematical aptitude.

“It’s a good background to have, but you don’t need to do heavy calculus or math [in the computer science program],” Korkmaz said. “It’s not necessary for everybody who’s going to work in a computer occupation.”

When it comes to admitting women and minorities in computer science programs, Korkmaz said the issue is not bias. Some of the underrepresented groups simply are not applying, he said.

To address this, Korkmaz said the university plans to do more outreach in local high schools to clarify what makes a good candidate for the computer science program.

With an eye toward increasing its student retention and graduation rates by 20 percent, UTSA will develop new methods and surveys to identify students’ academic needs and monitor each participant’s academic performance.

The program will also boost faculty, peer mentoring, and individual tutoring; introduce a week-long orientation program; hold biweekly group study meetings; and give students opportunities to attend research conferences and get involved in faculty research projects.

In other traditionally underrepresented communities, such as Hispanic students, UTSA has made progress in the number of students studying computer science since Fall 2008, when there were 132 Hispanic students to 180 white students. In Fall 2017, there were 555 Latinos and 355 white students enrolled in the program, according to UTSA’s Office of Institutional Research.

Korkmaz said the job market is driving a surge in enrollment among Hispanics and other minorities.

“[Computer science graduates] are able to secure well-paying jobs, and I think that’s good news for those interested in getting good jobs,” he said.

Students can apply for the scholarships online. To qualify, one must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or refugee; a full-time student; eligible for need-based federal financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid; and maintain a grade-point average of 3.2 or higher. The deadline for fall applicants is June 15.

“UTSA is one of the largest minority-serving institutions in South Texas, and increasing the diversity of perspectives in our nation’s pool of computer science professionals is vital to our country’s prosperity,” Korkmaz said. “With this new program, we’ll connect with underrepresented female, minority, and financially disadvantaged students to remove the implicit bias in the STEM field.”

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.