When sophomore graduate student Betty Mesfin first came to Northeastern to study computer science, she said she immediately felt a sense of isolation and impostor syndrome.
Frustrated with the lack of diversity in her classes and the lack of spaces for people who looked like her, she reached out to her advisor, Ashley Armand, to voice those concerns. And she learned that she was not alone.
“When I came [to Northeastern] it was really isolating,” Mesfin said. “When we were looking around and seeing the makeup of our program and trying to create a community of other people who not only looked like you, but just someone who could help you or someone you could look up to or relate to , it was very far and little. ”
Her adviser told Mesfin that she had heard these concerns before from other students, particularly from her student Xavier Husser, a third-year graduate student pursuing his master’s degree in cybersecurity. In his classes of 200 people, he found he was the only black man.
With the help of their advisor, Husser and Mesfin connected outside of the classroom. In the fall of 2020, they melt Code4LaCulturea club designed to provide them with the support system they so desperately sought.
“In terms of diversity in tech for underrepresented communities, there wasn’t a lot of diversity among students,” Husser said. “This experience made us feel like we should be doing something to help prospective students from similar backgrounds have some sense of community.”
Code4TheCulture is an organization for Khoury College of Computer Sciences graduate students who identify as Black and Latinx, and serves as both a social and networking community to help students succeed in their field.
Of the 40 members of the club, many are studying computer science at Khoury College Align program, which is aimed specifically at students, with or without a background in computer science, to break into the technology industry. In addition to addressing issues related to a lack of community, Husser and Mesfin created Code4TheCulture to help address systemic flaws within the program itself.
“One of the interesting things is that Align was specifically created so that we could create diversity in technology, but based on observation, it’s that even with the nuggets [of diversity] there are still problems within the program,” Mesfin said. “Unfortunately, what we noticed on the base [on] our own experiences and talking to each other as peers was that the people who were dropping out or transferring to other programs happened to be people of color.
To help support members and ensure their success in the field, Code4TheCulture offers a variety of programs and resources for graduate students at all Northeast campuses, including resume and technical interview workshops, events of speaker series and its universe of resources, which includes materials for homework and career. to help.
While the club’s programming is currently geared towards graduate students, it also strives to open up to undergraduates, said Code4TheCulture vice president Ulises Rodriguez, a first-year computer science graduate student. The club hosts a weekly Zoom coworking space open to all Khoury students, where teaching assistants can provide additional support for members to do homework and discuss topics they may be struggling with in their classes.
Rodriguez is happy that such a supportive community exists for him as he continues his education.
“I think it’s extremely important to bring all of these groups into the technology because now we’re seeing systems that already discriminate against certain groups,” Rodriguez said. “I think our club specifically provides that kind of community, and we lift each other up rather than compete against each other, and I think that’s definitely a community that I’m proud to be a part of.”
In addition to club events and programming, the group strives to advocate for its members through partnerships with technology companies. The club worked with Dell and secured a donation of $9,000 to Khoury College and $1,000 to the club to fund scholarships for low-income and underrepresented minority students. According to Rodriguez, Code4TheCulture plans to work with Spotify for future events and further connect its members to these organizations.
Recent reports finding bias and racism in computer algorithms make supporting diversity in technology all the more important, club members said. As technology becomes more and more embedded in our daily lives, the club said it wants to foster a community of success and support to ensure these flaws in the systems are improved and fixed.
“When you search for criminals on Google, the majority of people who show up are black or Latinx, and those are errors that were left behind when building this type of algorithm,” said Sandra Kwawu, president from Code4TheCulture and a 2023 graduate student in computer science. Science. “When you look at the people building this type of algorithm that we use on a daily basis, there’s a lack of representation. So instead of letting these things happen where we later come to fix them, we want to be part of building technology with diversity and inclusion in mind.
According to data from Zippia.com, only about 5% of IT professionals in the United States are Latinx and 1% are black. Code4TheCulture seeks to inspire future generations of underrepresented groups to break into the field of technology. The group spoke to students of all ages, from elementary to high school, about what it means to be a computer scientist in the hope that these students feel motivated to break into the field of technology.
“That’s why we do what we do,” Husser said. “To make sure people can imagine themselves in these career paths and build a future they can see themselves in.”
Going forward, the club hopes to continue to open up programming and collaborate with undergraduate organizations on campus. They also plan to establish a strong network of alumni who can help members after graduation and provide them with the scholarships and financial support they need to succeed in their careers. Mesfin can’t wait to see how the club continues to grow.
“Overall, coming from someone who has created something from scratch, I think what we’ve seen in Code4TheCulture is really exciting. Obviously it’s still in its infancy, but I feel like there’s so much potential and so much growth,” she said. “Code4TheCuture is on an upward trajectory and I can’t wait to see what happens next and how it will positively impact Black and Latino students here.”