Yi Gu, an associate professor in the Computer Science Department at Middle Tennessee State University, is helping underrepresented populations succeed and go the distance in her field and beyond with a $33,000 grant from the Tennessee Board of Regents.
“Our goals are to improve GPA scores and increase the retention rate of female students, especially female students of color, in the computer science major and the larger science, technology, engineering and math fields” Gu said. “We also want to develop interest and confidence in math and programming for the targeted students.”
To accomplish this, Gu and her team are using the funds from the 18-month grant in four key ways — putting on a six-week summer educational enrichment program; forming learning communities during the fall and spring semesters; improving the methodology of existing computer science and math tutoring labs; and organizing female-led seminars of faculty, senior students or recent graduates to serve as role models for younger students.
Gu’s team includes faculty Jaishree Ranganathan, computer science professor, and Lu Xiong, mathematical sciences assistant professor, and graduate students Emily Musselman, Andrew Dale Becker and Timothy Morren.
Gu said the enrichment program, especially, focuses on fun to interest students.
“We offered several workshops that were organized to engage more students in playful computer and mathematics activities such as simple coding for Lego robotics, data encryption and decryption, as well as math games,” she said.
Musselman, one of the project’s graduate assistants, said she was interested in joining the research team because the supports were something she would have loved to have during her time as an undergraduate computer science student.
“I was 18 and fresh out of high school with no programing experience,” said Musselman, who earned her undergraduate degree from MTSU in 2021. “I walked into a class of about 50 men who seemed to know all of the material already or seemed confident enough to think that it was going to be easy. I felt the opposite and spent a lot of my undergraduate time working incredibly hard sharpening my math and programming skills all on my own, so that I could go into class prepared to be in the conversation.”
Xingyu Chen, an actuarial science graduate student, said she participated in the enrichment program experience to improve her programming skills and learn something new.
“It help(ed) me to understand my major and deepen my career knowledge,” Chen said, adding that her favorite part was the introduction to programming.
Gu, who has overseen multiple research projects during her decade of work at MTSU, said her department and the university’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs have been very supportive of her work.
“Our department is always very supportive, providing funds for travel or publication for the faculty who do not currently have the grant money to do so,” said the Suzhou, China, native. “The ORSP provides various workshops and support on grant information and helps with budget design and other expenses.”
Musselman echoed Gu’s sentiments about the ORSP and highlighted the benefits of participating in research.
“This research specifically has allowed me to use the skills and knowledge that I have acquired at my time at MTSU and put them to use,” said Musselman, who is from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. “It has strengthened my academic profile and allowed me to meet some of the younger students who are coming up behind me.
“The ORSP’s assistance in students finding and applying for research funding … allows us to have a collaborative research environment, so that graduate students and faculty members who are engaged in ongoing research projects can work together.”
To learn more about the undergraduate and graduate computer science programs, visit the department’s website at https://www.mtsu.edu/programs/computer-science/.
To learn more about faculty and student research opportunities on campus, visit the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs website at https://www.mtsu.edu/research/.
— Stephanie Wagner (Stephanie.Wagner@mtsu.edu)