Educating for equity and access in computer science

Joanie Harmon, UCLA Newsroom

Jane Margolis, senior researcher at UCLA’s Center X, brings her firsthand experience of inequities in a technical field to her work on bringing computer science education to all students. A summer job as a telephone operator shortly after college led her to become one of the first female telephone installers for Pacific Telephone and Telegraph in the 1970s. She went on to Harvard’s Graduate School of Education where she studied gender socialization and gender, race and inequities in education.

Margolis emphasizes that her work around computer science has always been about inequality and how fields become segregated. As a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in the mid-1990s, she was asked to conduct a research study on the lack of female students in what was one of the top computer science departments in the nation. Her findings resulted in her first book, “Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing,” which she co-wrote with Allan Fisher. Margolis’ work led to more research funded by the National Science Foundation, on why so few African-Americans, Latinos and females were learning computer science in Los Angeles public high schools. The findings revealed the disparities in learning opportunities that fell along race and socio-economic lines, resulting in her second book, “Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing,” with she authored along with Rachel Estrella, Joanna Goode, Jennifer Jellison Holme and Kim Nao.

In response to the findings, Margolis and colleagues founded the Exploring Computer Science curriculum and teacher professional development program, which is housed within UCLA Center X’s Computer Science Project.