Jennifer Blaney

Jennifer Blaney

POCATELLO — Idaho State University assistant professor of Higher Education Jennifer Blaney was awarded a small research grant from the Spencer Foundation to examine equity in undergraduate computing programs.

Blaney’s research will focus on gender equity in the pathways and success of “upward transfer” students, those who have transferred from a community college to a four-year university. Specifically, she will research women in computer science who came from community college backgrounds instead of straight from high school.

“The goal of the project is two-fold,” Blaney said. “First, I want to examine the extent to which recent studies of gender and women’s experiences in computing replicate for upward transfer women. Second, I want to apply emerging theories of upward transfer to the study of women in computing to capture aspects of their experiences that may not be represented in the existing literature.”

Blaney will utilize an existing national survey dataset from the "Building, Recruiting, and Inclusion for Diversity" research project, a national study of equity in undergraduate computing, led by Linda Sax of the University of California, Los Angeles.

Before coming to ISU, Blaney worked for four years as a research analyst and data manager on the BRAID research project.

“During my time on that project, we built a national, longitudinal database of students who took computing courses at 15 research universit(ies) across the country,” Blaney said. “I previously used this database to conduct my dissertation research, which focused on gender equity and leadership development among undergraduate computing students.”

It was while working on her dissertation that Blaney became concerned that her research and the broader literature on women in computer science was focused too narrowly on women who follow traditional pathways from high school to college.

“I became increasingly interested in understanding how ‘non-traditional’ pathways may be critical to closing the gender gap in computing and ensuring that the women we recruit to computing programs are representative of the larger college-going population.”

Though project analyses will begin later in the spring, preliminary descriptive analyses reveal that students who transfer from two-year colleges are more diverse in terms of race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status than students who follow more “traditional” pathways.

“While women are underrepresented among computing majors across the board, they are even more underrepresented among upward transfer computing majors,” Blaney said. “This suggests that there may not be a viable pathway for many women to pursue four-year computer science degrees by way of community colleges.”

While this study focuses on upward transfer computer science students across the country, Blaney hopes to develop complementary projects to do in the future that will focus specifically on upward transfer students within Idaho.

“I hope that the findings from this project will be used to inform institutional changes to broaden participation among upward transfer women in computing and foster success among this unique group,” Blaney said.

For more information on the Spencer Foundation, visit spencer.org. For more information on the BRAID research project, visit braidresearch.gseis.ucla.edu.