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24 May 2022

How the Original LEAP Alliance Advocates Increase Diversity of Doctoral Programs in Computing

The LEAP Alliance is a CMD-IT program designed to increase the diversity of future faculty in computing as a way to increase diversity in computing. Just as CMD-IT fosters inclusivity and diversity in the computing workforce by providing resources and leadership initiatives to historically underrepresented groups, the LEAP Alliance addresses the issue of the small percentage of computing faculty at PhD-granting universities from the following target communities:  African-American, Hispanic, Native American or Alaska Native (CRA Taulbee Report). In addition to these communities, the LEAP Alliance also targets People with Disabilities.

The Original LEAP Alliance Strategies

The original LEAP Alliance was formed in 2017 with an NSF INCLUDES demonstration grant (HRD-1806229) and a grant from the Sloan Foundation. This alliance consists of 11 institutions that produce over 50% of the computing faculty at the top 55 research institutions, based upon data from Jeff Huang, Associate Professor in Computer Science at Brown University. One unique and essential aspect of this alliance is the faculty and staff advocates from each institution who work to bring about change at their respective institutions. The advocates also serve as a point of contact for the LEAP Fellows to address issues and aid in the retention through graduation. The advocates include primarily tenured faculty and graduate advisors, endeavoring to increase the diversity in doctoral programs.

The LEAP advocates participate in monthly phone calls, which is a key component for open discussions and developing community among the advocates. Some of the strategies implemented to date include mentoring programs among LEAP Fellows at the different institutions, professional development events for the LEAP Fellows to demystify the academic ladder, opportunities for community building among the LEAP Fellows at events such as the Tapia Conference, data collection, and sharing of good practices for recruiting, admissions and retention to increase the diversity of the doctoral program in computing.

Impact of LEAP Advocates and the LEAP Program

The efforts of the original LEAP Alliance advocates have resulted in significant growth of matriculated students into the doctoral programs at the LEAP institutions. Regarding the first-year students from the target communities, the LEAP Alliance had a 20% increase from Fall 2018 to Fall 2019. From Fall 2019 to Fall 2020, the growth was flat as many universities had to pivot to virtual visits with the pandemic. However, from Fall 2020 to Fall 2021, there was a 46% increase in first-year students from the target communities.

As a result of the success of the original LEAP Alliance, an NSF Broadening Participation in Computing Alliance grant was received to expand the alliance to include four cohorts. Cohort 1 consists of the original LEAP Alliance. Cohort 2 consists of the next 11 universities from the data collected by Jeff Huang, such that the combination of cohorts 1 and 2 accounts for over 70% of the faculty. Cohorts 1 and 2 focus on increasing the diversity of the Ph.D. graduates in computing. Cohort 3 is focused on increasing the exposure of academic careers at institutions that already have good diversity with their Ph.D. graduates in computing (based upon the IPEDS data over ten years). Cohort 4 is focused on the retention of diverse undergraduate students at the institutions that send students to graduate school that go on to be faculty as identified by the data collected by Jeff Huang.

We want to acknowledge the faculty and staff advocates of the original LEAP Alliance, which consisted of the 11 institutions. We appreciate their excellent work and look forward to working with the advocates of all four cohorts, which include 30 different institutions.