Addressing the CS Capacity Challenge by Improving Undergraduate Peer Mentoring
community of peer mentors as role models, we also aim to increase the participation and retention of women, underrepresented minorities, and first-generation college students.
We see diversity and inclusion as key tools for creating a
welcoming and diverse learning environment, especially for
students who may not initially see themselves as computer scientists. The MaGE curriculum prepares students for educating, mentoring, and supporting others in inclusive ways. Peer
mentors work closely with a group of up to nine CS1 or CS2
students for an entire semester. Their responsibilities go beyond
those of a typical course assistant (see section on ‘Peer Mentor
Responsibilities’). Prior to beginning as a mentor, students must
complete the MaGE Training course, a half-semester course
taught by a member of the faculty (Figure 2).
The MaGE Training curriculum includes research-based
MEGAS AND GIGAS EDUCATE (MaGE)
instruction on effective learning—motivation, strategic learn-
ing, self-efficacy, and growth mindset—enabling peer mentors
to strengthen their education toolkits by self-assessing their
strengths, engaging in group discussions, and adjusting and
stretching their personal perspectives [ 5]. Throughout the
course, students also increase their awareness of the role of so-
cial identity in learning, while gaining practice and preparation
in code review, giving effective feedback, and creating active
learning lessons. The curriculum was developed by computer
science faculty in collaboration with a colleague in psycholo-
engagement of women and underrepresented minority stu-
dents, were necessary to creating inclusive, sustainable, and
scalable educational programs. After an extensive proposal re-
view process, Google selected eight institutions to participate
in this program, among them Mount Holyoke College.
Mount Holyoke is a women’s liberal arts college of approximately 2,200 undergraduate students. The Computer Science
Department, established in 2000, has experienced sudden and
tremendous growth in recent years in both number of majors
(Figure 1) and introductory course enrollments. The department currently has 5. 5 tenure-track faculty and two visiting lecturers. With over 120 current majors (students typically declare
in their sophomore year) and a growing number of non-majors
interested in learning computer science, the department faces the challenge of trying to meet extraordinarily high interest
with limited resources.
The majority of Mount Holyoke students enrolling in the introductory CS1 course have little-to-no prior experience. We
believe that close interaction with students and careful feedback are key factors in attracting and retaining students traditionally underrepresented in computer science. An important
pedagogical component in our introductory courses has been
one-on-one contact between students and instructors (
particularly through small lab sections) and careful review of code.
Specifically, programs are graded with consideration to style
and approach; automated grading approaches cannot provide
this level of feedback.
We designed the Megas and Gigas Educate (MaGE) program in 2015 with the goal of providing introductory CS students with one-on-one feedback from and close interaction
with trained peer mentors, while at the same time increasing
the capacity of the introductory courses. By building a vibrant
Figure 1: Number of computer science graduates by year at Mount
Figure 2: Mount Holyoke students in the MaGE Training course.