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Understanding Professional Identity Development Among Computer Science Students

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Computing and Information Technology Division Technical Session 6

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Computing and Information Technology

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Paper Authors


Sami N. Rollins University of San Francisco

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Sami Rollins is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of San Francisco (USF). She holds a B.A. in Computer Science from Mills College and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California at Santa Barbara.She recently completed a rotation as a Program Director in the Division of Undergraduate Education at the National Science Foundation.

Sami's research interests include broadening participation in computing, computer science education, and mobile and distributed computing. She is currently involved with an NSF-funded S-STEM project that awards scholarships to students studying computing at USF. The project implements a suite of community-building activities designed to improve scholars' self-efficacy and develop computing identity. Sami also co-directed a project that developed system support and user-driven strategies for improving energy efficiency in residential buildings.

Sami has served in a number of service roles at USF and in her professional community. She was chair of the Computer Science department at USF from 2013-2016. She also served on the editorial board of Sigmobile’s GetMobile Magazine from 2014-2018. She has been involved with the discipline-specific Networking Networking Women community since 2010, serving as mentor, fellowship co-chair, and workshop co-chair She was co-chair of the board of Networking Networking Women from 2016-2018.

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Alark Joshi University of San Francisco

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Alark Joshi is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of San Francisco. He was a co-PI on the IDoCode project at Boise State University that provided teacher training, curriculum development, and policy changes in the State Board of Education in the state of Idaho. Currently, he is a co-PI on the S-STEM proposal focused on engaging students in the local community to enable successful outcomes for them with respect to increased self-identity, better grades in courses, and internships/jobs.

He received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, his M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Minnesota and his B.S. degree from the University of Pune, India.

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Xornam Apedoe University of San Francisco


Sophie Engle University of San Francisco

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Sophie Engle is an Associate Professor at the University of San Francisco, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses for the Computer Science and Data Science programs. Her current research interests include data visualization and computer science education. She graduated with a Ph.D. on computer security from the University of California, Davis and a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

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Matthew Malensek

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Gian Bruno University of San Francisco

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Despite growing enrollments in computing-related programs, retention, particularly of students from minoritized groups, remains a challenge. Recent research has demonstrated that a stronger sense of disciplinary identity may contribute to increased persistence in STEM fields. The goal of this work is to identify factors that lead to identity development among computer science students. In Fall 2019, we began a scholarship program to support low-income, academically talented students. Scholars receive financial support and participate in programming designed to cultivate computing identity. In the first year, scholars participate in an early arrival program, a two-credit introduction to the field, cohort enrollment, and one-on-one faculty mentoring. We explore a baseline measure of computing identity using two existing instruments: (1) a subset of questions from the Conceptual Understanding & Physics Identity Development (CUPID) survey to assess students’ perceived recognition, interest and performance/competence; and (2) an adapted version of the STEM Professional Identity Overlap (STEM-PIO) which uses a pictorial representation to assess perceived recognition, performance, competence, typicality, and centrality. Participants included three groups of students: second-year scholars who have participated in one year of programming (n=3); first-year scholars (2020/2021) (n=3); and a comparison group of students taking first-semester computer science classes (n=20). We find that, for the CUPID survey items, second-year students rated themselves higher for recognition, interest and performance/competence items. This suggests that students who have spent a year in our program have developed a greater sense of computing identity. For the STEM-PIO survey, however, we find that the second-year students selected lower ratings than the first-year students for all five items, and had lower ratings than the comparison students for perceived typicality, competence, and performance items. This result is unexpected. We observe that while STEM-PIO asks students to compare the extent to which they overlap with a CS professional, CUPID focuses more on how students perceive their own interest and ability. During the first year of our program, scholars participate in a class that introduces them to CS professionals through talks, panels, and field trips. We hypothesize that greater exposure to CS professionals led the second-year scholars to select lower ratings for the STEM-PIO questions. Our second finding indicates that males (n=12) consistently reported the highest ratings for the CUPID survey and four of five questions on the STEM-PIO survey, however ratings reported by females (n=13) were not significantly lower. Students who identified as Other (n=2) selected lower ratings on all items across both instruments, suggesting an area of improvement for our program. Finally, the CUPID questions with the lowest overall ratings were the following: (1) My instructors/teachers see me as a computer savvy person, and (2) Others ask me for help with software (applications/programs). This suggests additional areas where our program could improve. We will continue to administer both instruments annually to better understand how, when, and why our students develop computing identity. By better understanding identity development we can work to improve persistence in computing programs.

Rollins, S. N., & Joshi, A., & Apedoe, X., & Engle, S., & Malensek, M., & Bruno, G. (2021, July), Understanding Professional Identity Development Among Computer Science Students Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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