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Rutgers students join The Percentage Project to advocate for issues in computer science field

Members of The Percentage Project at Rutgers are working with the Department of Computer Science to raise awareness on issues in computer science education and other tech-related fields through their survey and photo efforts. – Photo by Stocksnap.io

Many Rutgers students have joined The Percentage Project, a nonprofit organization which aims to advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion in computer science education through the collection of survey data at universities nationwide, according to their website.

The project analyzes similarities and differences in student experience amongst demographic groups in order to shed light on the challenges of underrepresented students and inspire the community to take action, according to a press release. The survey statistics are edited onto photos of community members to show that the challenges of these groups are not just numbers.

Jarelle Franchela Boac, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, and Nikita Sharma, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, currently serve as the campus directors for The Percentage Project at Rutgers. Their roles include coordinating and organizing with the committee of editors, photographers and marketers at the University.

“We’re constantly meeting with our Percentage Project lead with weekly updates on how Rutgers is doing with collecting pictures and data for the mission, working with our committee and communicating with other organizations at Rutgers to help spread the word regarding The Percentage Project and our survey,” Boac and Sharma said.

Both campus directors said they were part of The Percentage Project board at Rutgers when the program was first launched in January 2020, but with the online format, constant communication and thorough marketing have been needed to get the project going.

“I was so excited to join the board because I’d have the opportunity to contribute to something which helps spotlight the microaggressions minorities face in tech as well as areas we can improve on in Rutgers tech,” Boac said. “With the success of our first ever launch last year, you can just imagine how motivated we were to keep up the momentum this year as campus directors and to coordinate with the department to help make the necessary changes needed.”

Sharma said that as a campus director, it has been incredibly exciting to see Rutgers students submit photos and support the cause, even in a remote learning setting, as well as see The Percentage Project teamwork to edit photos and spread word about the project. 

Sarah McNey, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said that she joined The Percentage Project team this year as a photo editor, and her role has largely consisted of editing photos and ensuring everything adheres to publishing standards.

She said that working with The Percentage Project this semester has been extremely rewarding, and she plans to continue working with the organization both as a committee member for the Rutgers chapter and as a member of the larger organization's technology team, where she will be working on data visualization projects. 

Boac and Sharma will also continue to work with The Percentage Project as software engineers, where they will be working on renovating the website and organizing data in creative ways.

“I've always been passionate about making computer science an equal playing field for all, so my interests align perfectly with the mission of The Percentage Project,” McNey said. “I think it's great that the organization aims to highlight the hardships that underrepresented students face at the university level — these inequalities explain a lot about why the tech industry looks the way it does today, and I hope that shedding light on them helps improve university computer science departments nationwide.”

This year, The Percentage Project survey had more than 200 participants from Rutgers and asked questions about students' experiences with faculty and peers, sexual violence, pressure regarding internships and if students felt that the University provides enough resources for success, Boac and Sharma said.

Some results from the survey included that 94 percent of women and 85 percent of men think conscious and unconscious biases against certain groups based on gender still exist today, and 34 percent of women and 26 percent of men have seriously considered leaving their tech-related field of study, they said.

Additionally, more men than women felt comfortable asking questions during office hours and believed that students from every background have an equal chance to succeed at Rutgers. 

Sharma and Boac said the organization is working with the Department of Computer Science to share these findings in order to bring awareness to these issues and spark conversation between faculty and peers as to how they can better support one another, especially during uncertain times.

“Our hope is that we can create new programs and initiatives, or build upon existing ones we have currently, to uplift tech students and provide them with accessible resources to succeed and have an accepting/friendly community in college,” they said.


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