By Kees Leune and Salvatore Petrilli, Jr., Adelphi University
A Model for Enhancing
Diversity and Retention
The average number of undergraduate computer science (CS) majors is larger today than at any time previously
and the average number of CS majors at doctoral granting
academic units has more than tripled since 2006 [ 5]. Yet,
almost a third of first-time college students who start a
computational major change it at least once within three
years [ 12]. Approximately 40% of those who embark on
a CS program eventually leave without a degree [ 16].
Chen [ 3] states that women and minority students drop
out of computer science at higher rates in comparison to
white males. This paper reflects on the introduction of a
1-credit Computing Orientation Seminar—mandatory
for all students entering a CS program—and on its role
in building community to improve retention, student
engagement, and diversity. The findings presented in this
paper do not claim to be a silver bullet for solving these
issues in CS education. However, we believe that there
is value in reflection, and that our reflection reinforces
the idea that active interventions towards community
formation positively impact student outcomes.
With growing societal concerns about the cost of higher education [ 20], universities and colleges must present a clear value proposition to their students [ 14]. As such, programs must
strike a balance between developing a strong theoretical foundation allowing advanced studies, but also instill a set of practical skills appropriate for the labor market for students who
choose to pursue a professional career upon graduation.
Petrilli [ 18] introduced a Mathematics Orientation Seminar
ADDRESSING THE SKILLS GAP
to our undergraduate mathematics majors and demonstrated
that an orientation seminar of this nature increases retention,
At the start of the 2017/2018 academic term, the Seminar be-
came a mandatory part of all computational programs at Adel-
phi University, such as the major in computer science and the
major in information systems. It covers subject areas listed in
Table 1. In addition, the course is suitable for inclusion in minors
such as cybersecurity, statistics and data analytics, computer sci-
ence, and scientific computing. The Seminar is not intended to
replace a typical CS101 course but rather to complement it.
Once students have been admitted, program outcomes are the
responsibility of faculty who design and teach the curriculum.
As such, faculty must always be alert to factors that might impact retention and student success.
Retention in a computer science programs is known to be
an issue. Research has shown that, among a range of causes,
a lack of skills in computational problem solving is a threat to
retention [ 2]. We polled students from our programs and asked
them about their background in computing. Forty-nine of 76
student responses (64.5%) in the fall 2018 Seminar indicated
that they had no prior computational background. This realiza-