Providing Near-Peer Mentorship to Increase Underrepresented Minority Youth Participation in Computing

Providing Near-Peer Mentorship to Increase Underrepresented Minority Youth Participation in Computing

Michael J. Lee
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4739-7.ch001
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Literature shows that mentors and role-models directly affect young students' self-efficacy and motivation to pursue specific academic fields and careers. To explore this further, this chapter describes a free, 9-Saturday programming camp for middle school students with near-peer mentors (first year, college student instructors) and local guest speakers. This camp served 28 underrepresented minority students (17 boys and 11 girls; grades 5-7) from a low-income, urban area. In a pre-camp survey, the middle school students predominately reported not having any role-models or mentors in computing. However, when asked again on the final camp day, these same students indicated developing strong connections with their near-peer mentors and even saw these older students and guest speakers, as role-models. These results highlight the need for young, underrepresented minority students to have more opportunities to interact with potential mentors and role-models, and the importance of providing resources to help develop and nurture these connections.
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Middle School Students

Developmental and educational research has shown that youth begin to form ideas about future educational interests and career aspirations during their formative years in middle school (Denner, 2011; Eccles & Harold, 1993; Hill & Wang, 2015). As such, many more efforts are now focusing on exposing and teaching students Computer Science (CS) at a younger age in both school curricula and afterschool programs. Many of these efforts begin by using programming environments that are user-friendly and have the potential to lower the cognitive threshold for novice programmers, such as Alice (e.g., (Kelleher & Pausch, 2007a; Kerr, Chou, Ellis, & Kelleher, 2013)), Scratch (e.g., (Maloney, Peppler, Kafai, Resnick, & Rusk, 2008)), Gidget (Lee & Ko, 2015), and others (Grover, Pea, & Cooper, 2016). Reports on the outcomes of these efforts show that young, novice programmers are engaged and effectively learn basic programming skills and concepts (e.g., (Kurland & Pea, 1985; Lee & Ko, 2015; Maloney et al., 2008)) and support computational thinking (Wing, 2008). For example, Kelleher, Pausch, & Kiesler (2007b) found that Alice kept middle school girls engaged with programming, even during break times. Meerbaum-Salant, Armoni, & Ben-Ari. (2013) reported that their middle school students learned most of the targeted CS concepts using Scratch, and Lee & Ko (2015) found similar results with the Gidget programming game, where users exhibited significant learning gains for targeted CS concepts. This study extends these past works, specifically examining how utilizing some of these tools in a coding camp with similarly-aged instructors might affect underrepresented and underserved minority middle school students’ views about access to computing mentors and role-models, and their ideas for future academic interests and/or careers.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Underserved Groups: Used to describe populations or communities with too few primary care providers, high poverty, and/or high elderly population.

Role Models: Those individuals that our students could look up to. In our 9-Saturday coding camp, this included the guest speakers who came to share information about their careers.

Campers: The middle school students (5 th -7 th graders; aged 10-13 years) who took part in our 9-Saturday coding camp.

Near Peer Mentors: The first-year college students (aged 18-19 years) who were instructors in our 9-Saturday coding camp.

Underrepresented Groups: Used to describe groups or communities that make up a smaller percentage than a larger subgroup within a population.

Minorities: Used to describe racial, ethnic, and underserved populations or communities.

YouTuber: A person who produces, films, edits, and/or (most typically) appears in online videos, namely on the website YouTube. This definition may extend to people on other similar online video sharing websites such as TikTok.

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