Staying Course

CMU programs create STEM career entry points for students at all levels

Ashley Patton is passionate about getting kids access to computer science education, providing many of the students who cross her path an introduction to the field.

“You tend to see computer science in well-funded districts, and because of what we know about the American education system and the inherent disparities thereof, those wealthy schools tend to lack diversity,” she said. 

Patton believes that universities should give all students an opportunity to thrive, regardless of their zip code, socioeconomic status, background or experience. She is the director of CS Pathways, one of several Carnegie Mellon University programs designed to introduce students to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). These programs aim to combat a problem the White House Office of Science and Technology policy calls “the missing millions,” a term for the millions of talented students who are not engaged in STEM because they lack access to STEM opportunities.

Everything CS Pathways provides is free.

“We really try to level the playing field, so that kids who have an interest in using computer science and technology to improve their communities have an opportunity to learn at no cost to them,” Patton said. “All students deserve access to programs that help them decide if theirs is a future in computer science.”

Amy Klinke, assistant vice president of CMU’s Center for Business Engagement, said that her office acts as a university-wide front door to industry. She sees programs that support STEM careers from a young age as a critical tool. 

“There is an important business reason to have a diverse workforce. Companies care deeply about this but don’t always invest a lot in it. I believe that anything we can do to reduce the headwind and give tail winds to People of Color and underrepresented minorities, the better off we are,” Klinke said.

Like CS Pathways, The Summer Academy for Math and Science (SAMS) gives students an opportunity to learn without the barrier of cost. The program for rising high school seniors provides everything from bedsheets to laptops to its students. SAMS hosts about 75 students at CMU each summer, many of them traditionally underrepresented in STEM or from under-resourced schools.

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