There have been significant efforts toward addressing the current and future shortfalls and mismatches in the computing, information, and technology workforce. These efforts include attracting more students into computer science, fostering a realistic and interdisciplinary approach to computing, and increasing cooperation and collaboration between institutions. The NECST (Networking and Engaging in Computer Sciences and Information Technology) Program, funded through the NSF S-STEM program, tackles these challenges in a novel way. Most approaches to increasing STEM enrollment in general – and computer science enrollment in particular – focus on secondary or even primary school students or underclass college students. NECST, however, looks to interest undergraduates close to graduation, recent alumni, or returning students from any discipline in graduate study in computer science. These interests are motivated as a change in career direction, or equally often as a means to acquire skills, concepts, and frameworks that complement their original discipline or career plans. This can be an advantage for students of all disciplines, including undergraduate computing majors, since employers have remarked that many computer science majors, although possessing basic knowledge and dedication, lack understanding and depth, plus critical thinking and communication skills.
NECST is supported by a consortium of four institutions in northern New Jersey. The region hosts several higher education institutions, public and private, and is characterized by a high demand for computing and information technology. Through the program, students receive a two-year scholarship to pursue a practice-oriented, career-centered Master’s degree in Computer Science at Montclair State University. The other three institutions, Saint Peter’s University, Seton Hall University, and William Paterson University, have well-established undergraduate computer science programs but currently no graduate program.
The scholarship is not restricted to those with undergraduate majors in computer science or related fields, or even to STEM majors; in fact, its greatest benefit is arguably to those with an interest in computing or technology but have a very different undergraduate background. Students benefit from a structured but flexible framework of mentoring and group activities, including student-organized group support. The program has had two welcomed consequences for the institutions that have been involved in the program. It has fostered increased cooperation and exploration of opportunities for collaboration among the computer science programs at the institutions involved as well as between the computer science departments and the diverse departments from which students have applied. In this poster, we will describe the NECST Program and its innovative mentorship structure for transitioning graduate students in computer science whose undergraduate experiences may be in other disciplines. NECST employs several activities that provide the additional scaffolding to support students as they make this transition. While we believe these activities may be suited for other situations, the program helps address the unique challenges northern New Jersey faces with relation to graduate studies in computing fields.
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