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Illinois CS Using Facebook Funds to Help Launch Program for People Weighing Move into Tech

4/18/2019 4:02:37 PM

An investment by Facebook will help the Department of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to establish a program that prepares people who did not study computer science as undergraduates to transition to technology-sector careers and earn master’s degrees in computer science.

The $4.2 million from Facebook will also help launch similar programs at Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Georgia Tech College of Computing, all based on a Northeastern University program known as Align.

Northeastern’s Align program has enrolled students with degrees from more than 80 different disciplines. The program focuses on increasing the number of women and underrepresented groups in computer science.

"These pathways enrich and diversify computing -- in thought, ethnicity and gender." -- Nancy Amato, head of the Department of Computer Science.
"These pathways enrich and diversify computing -- in thought, ethnicity and gender." -- Nancy Amato, head of the Department of Computer Science.

“Facebook's funding will allow us to provide an on-ramp to our master's program, opening it up to students who could succeed but today hesitate to apply due to the lack of a clear way to develop the rigorous background they need to enroll,” said Nancy Amato, the head the Department of Computer Science at the University of Illinois. “We are excited to add this program to our existing offerings, such as our CS + X blended undergraduate majors and our online Master in Computer Science. Together, these pathways enrich and diversify computing -- in thought, ethnicity and gender. Having followed a similar path myself, I'm certain some students will get the research bug and want to continue on for a PhD.”

Facebook says it hopes its investment helps build greater awareness of these transitional programs and inspires other companies to sponsor similar initiatives. The company hopes to form a consortium of at least 15 U.S. colleges and universities focused on increasing diversity in computer science.

Facebook’s investment also will fund 200 scholarships in Northeastern’s Align program.

According to Carla Brodley, dean of Northeastern’s Khoury College of Computer Sciences, “Align addresses critical issues related to both workforce development and social equity and inclusion, bringing diverse students to one of the most in-demand and economically rewarding careers today.”

Students who have earned a degree through the Align program since it was launched in 2013 currently work at top technology companies such as Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google. More than 575 students are currently enrolled