Kean University Computer Science Program Awarded $1.68 Million Federal Grant

UNION, N.J. ­–– The National Science Foundation has awarded Kean University nearly $1.7 million in research funding to develop a model for computer science and information technology education designed to increase the number of students studying computer science and IT.

Building on the success of Kean’s computer science program, the grant will fund a five-year research project that will launch in October, called Building Capacity: Pathway to Success for Students and Faculty in Computing.

“We’re delighted,” said Patricia Morreale, Ph.D., professor and executive director of Kean’s School of Computer Science, who said the grant will permit the University to “continue to scale up the number of students in our programs while expanding and learning from our successful approach.”

When completed, the research is expected to improve computer science teaching, encourage innovative faculty development methods, and identify early intervention techniques for improving student academic success, leading to a larger, more diverse community of graduates.

“These funds will help keep us on the path of success in computer science,” Kean President Dawood Farahi, Ph.D., said. “Kean has worked to be a leader in the crucial STEM fields, and we are proud of the diversity among our students. We are grateful to the National Science Foundation for recognizing and supporting the strength of our programs.”

Among other successes, Kean’s computer science school has worked to increase the number of women computer science majors and those from underrepresented ethnicities. More than 50 percent of Kean’s computer science and IT majors are minority, and almost 20 percent are female. Undergraduate research participation is a hallmark of the program, with graduates joining national employers or continuing on to graduate school.

U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker both issued statements announcing the federal grant, applauding Kean and expressing the importance of STEM education for students.

A fellow of the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science, Morreale has won praise for her leadership in helping make the future of computer science more diverse. She said the school plans to build on that.

“This grant award is a recognition of the hard work of our students and faculty, and aligning our proposed research with national goals,” she said. “The president's office and the provost have funded pilot initiatives in the last year which have laid the foundation for this proposed work and enabled our success.”

Kean co-investigators on the grant include faculty members Mayra Bachrach, Austin Huang, Ph.D., Daehwan Kwak, Ph.D., and Jenny Li, Ph.D., and Neva Lozada, Ed.D., director of the Office of Student Success and Retention.

The federal grant will fund “Growth Mindset” training for faculty and students, which addresses student attitudes about learning in order to build confidence in the academic setting and help them achieve their goals through dedication and hard work. The funds will also allow a review of the first- and second-year computer science course curriculum, and extend Kean’s Supplemental Instruction (SI) initiative to computer science and information technology, Morreale said.

The School will also integrate coursework in problem solving and algorithms throughout the early-course sequence, and students will use gamification, the application of game-design elements in non-gaming environments, to develop pre-professional skills, she said.

“That will lead to internships and continued post-graduation success, crucial to the workforce for our region and nation,” Morreale said.