Students of color studying computer science often feel underrepresented in their field, according to data from the National Science Foundation. The NSF found that only 18 percent of American students who receive bachelor’s degrees in computer science are non-white, while 36.4 percent of Americans are non-white. Nifemi Madarikan ’17 and Chelse-Amoy Steele ’18 recognized this disparity and sought to create a support group for underrepresented racial minorities and launched Mosaic+ last year.
The idea for the group came about spring 2015 when Madarikan, now co-coordinator of Mosaic+, was approached by Chad Jenkins, a former professor in the computer science department. Jenkins remarked that although the CS department was significantly more diverse than it had been in the past, the department could still do a lot more for URM students.
“The problem wasn’t so much that there aren’t enough black people in the department,” but that students from several underrepresented minority groups were not receiving the support they needed from the department, Madarikan said. The founders felt that a student-led group was necessary so that URM students could help and support each other inside and outside the classroom.
The CS department sponsors many events hosted by Mosaic+, but the majority of the group’s funding comes from a donation from Jenkins, who received a large grant for winning an Excellence in Advising award in 2015. Mosaic+ uses the funds for events, its pre-orientation program and, in the future, to send students to various CS conferences.
Mosaic+ members work directly with both students and departmental faculty, contributing ideas to the CS department’s Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan. Madarikan, a student diversity advocate on the department’s DIAP committee, acted as a liaison between the committee and Mosaic+.
The work that Mosaic+ pursues with students takes place along two branches: its mentoring and its transition programs. The mentoring program pairs an upperclassman CS student with two or three first-year students interested in CS. This year 36 mentees and 12 mentors joined the program.
Mentors help mentees find courses and internships, prepare for grad school and compile resumes, among other tasks that prepare first-year CS students for the road ahead. “The mentorship component allows people to feel a little bit more secure in both their decisions and their interests,” said Steele, co-coordinator of Mosaic+.
“I probably wouldn’t have known (about) other opportunities outside of class,” said Stephanie Alvarado ’20 , a current mentee. “It’s definitely a huge help.”
Before the school year starts, the group hosts a pre-orientation program for incoming URM freshmen to cultivate an interest in computer science. Last year, the program was attended by 13 students in addition to some students participating in Catalyst, Brown’s official pre-orientation program for minority students interested in STEM. Most students in the program went on to take a course in CS.
Mosaic+ finds participants for the pre-orientation program through the Catalyst application. The students visited museums and the Google office in Boston and participated in bonding activities during the program in addition to completing computer science projects.
Mosaic+ also hosts workshops and recruitment events in coordination with tech companies, such as walk-in hours with a representative from Twitter and a networking function with recruiters from Airbnb.
Mosaic+ is working to build a network of URM alums in the future, but the group is still young. Madarikan and other seniors in the group hope to stay in touch with Mosaic+ after graduating, so that they might be a resource for future URM CS students.
“I definitely want to be involved in Mosaic+ in the future … because it (has) helped me a lot, and I want to help someone else out,” Alvarado said.