IEEE CS i/we Belong Project: Diversity and Inclusion in Action

IEEE Computer Society Team
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Summer workshops to introduce kids to computing basicsComputer science education is not only a beneficial addition to a child’s academic curriculum, but it has also become a crucial component of their overall development. Involving kids in computer science from an early age promotes critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration—skills that extend beyond coding and programming.

Made possible through a grant from the IEEE Computer Society’s Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Fund, which supports initiatives that positively impact diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the computing community, the University of Nebraska held i/we Belong Workshops, a four-day summer series, as well as after-school workshops, for underrepresented and economically disadvantaged middle-school students in the Omaha metropolitan area. The goal of the program was to raise awareness of information technology, computer science, robotics, and cybersecurity among participants and connect them with other STEM opportunities available at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.


Summer workshops

Over the summer of 2023, a series of four-day workshops convened and covered various aspects of computing, such as computer programming, bioinformatics, information security, and robotics. These workshops took place at the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Peter Kiewit Institute. To attract participants, workshop leaders promoted the event via social media; connected with contacts with the local Computer Science Teachers Association; reached out to nonprofits that work with underrepresented and high-needs students; and networked with faculty/college contacts in the community. Ultimately, 12 student participants joined the sessions focused on expanding their knowledge of computer science.

Each day consisted of hands-on and interactive activities throughout the day (for six hours per day) and was delivered by a diverse group of four University of Nebraska faculty and college students with experience in computer science outreach for kids. The instructors included:

  • Alfredo J. Perez, who led intro to computing, paper and pencil programming activities, design of physical interfaces using invention kits from Makey-Makeys, and block-based programming using Scratch.
  • Kate Cooper, who delivered introductory activities in bioinformatics and hands-on activities on data representation, genomics, algorithmic, and computational thinking.
  • Derek Babb, who shared activities related to cybersecurity, which included learning about the confidentiality, integrity and availability (CIA) triad, digital footprints, encryption activities, identifying misinformation, and wireless communication and programming using micro bit microcontrollers.
  • Derrick Nero, who led robotics activities, using diverse types of robotic platforms and methods to program them; Nero leveraged robots including Ozebots (programmed using Ozebot-blockly and color-based programming) and utilized the University of Nebraska’s CEENBoT platform to learn basic robotics and programming concepts.

In addition to this programming, students received information about careers in computing and other possible activities for them at the University of Nebraska.


i/we Belong After School Program

The grant also helped facilitate an afterschool program for children at Dundee Elementary School in Omaha. Dundee has 38% underrepresented enrollment, and around 41% of students at this elementary receive free/reduced lunch.

At Dundee, Perez held six after school sessions for 10 students, which included activities in computer programming, cybersecurity and cryptography, data encoding and representation, and an introduction to robotics and microcontrollers. These activities were held in October and November 2023.


In conclusion

While many children in the Omaha metropolitan area still need access to computer science and technology activities, the funding provided allowed the team to contribute to increasing awareness of computer science and computer science-related careers among underrepresented groups and foster relationships in the community.

Future plans include delivering a program of i/we Belong workshops in South Omaha during summer 2024, in partnership with a local non-profit that works with underrepresented groups.

“We expect to continue to expand these outreach and awareness activities in the future. We appreciate the IEEE Computer Society Diversity and Inclusion Fund and its donors for providing funding for this program,” said Perez.