New Voices and New Visions  

Collaborative Research: BPC-DP: New Voices and New
Visions for Engaging Native Americans in Computer Science

Project Summary

The University of New Mexico (UNM) in partnership with Boston University (BU) was awarded a 36 month pilot program through National Science Foundation Broadening Participation in Computing. This pilot program combines Native American culture and art with a high-technology, computer-rich environment as a vehicle to engage Native American students in computer and computational science. The project employs the Access Grid (AG), virtual reality technologies and Boston University's stereoscopic Deep Vision Display Wall (DVD Wall) to create a culturally and technologically compelling educational experience. The AG is used as the communication infrastructure to create a cyber-classroom between UNM, the Jemez Department of Education and Boston University, as well as the primary mechanism for collaboration between the researchers at the three sites. The culturally relevant, virtual reality experiences displayed on the DVD Wall are a centerpiece of the curriculum, serving as a motivation for the computer science goals of the project. The pilot project also has outreach events and activities at BU, UNM and Jemez Pueblo. These events and shows of the student work are intended to influence the larger community, change the image of computing in culturally relevant ways and attract Native American students to computer science studies and careers.

Intellectual Merit

The project has the merits of 1) recruiting Native American students into fields that use computer and computational science; 2) adopting a broad definition of computer and computational sciences that incorporates interdisciplinary approaches; and 3) establishing a new model that integrates art and culture with computation in a culturally relevant curriculum.

Our model is based on a holistic and interdisciplinary approach that incorporates Native American pedagogy, culture and visual aesthetics, computational applications (digital media, VR, 3D animation, DVD Wall, AG), and computer science concepts. We implement our model by creating a new curricular partnership between Computer Science and Native American Studies – two academic departments that have traditionally been completely non-integrated.

Broader Impacts

By the end of the 36 month pilot project the students at both the college and high school level will have been exposed to the power and depth of computer science, hopefully inspiring many of them to obtain a degree in this discipline and pursue a career in this or a closely related field. We anticipate that this pilot project will inform and lead to a larger Alliance project with similar goals, and will provide a model based on an interdisciplinary framework which can be emulated by other institutions and adapted for other groups underrepresented in computer and computational sciences.