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.
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