Northeastern University has received funding from Pivotal Ventures, the executive office of Melinda Gates, to expand its Align program. Align focuses on closing the diversity gap in tech by giving students from any academic background the ability to earn a master’s degree in computer science. The funding will pay for the first semester of study for women and underrepresented minority students—a critical step toward ensuring degree completion.
A primary obstacle to diversity in tech is that women and minorities traditionally have self-selected out of trying computer science as undergraduates. Providing first-semester scholarships removes the economic barrier for diverse students to try computer science.
“First semester scholarships are an incredibly effective way to recruit people who might not otherwise try computer science,” said Carla Brodley, dean of Northeastern’s College of Computer and Information Science. “For students who choose to go on to the second semester, the completion rate is 95 percent to date.”
Developed in part with funding from the National Science Foundation, the Align program has a unique structure in which students start with a bridge of computer science courses designed to prepare them for graduate-level study. Students also complete a paid professional experience that lasts six to eight months and is integrated into their classroom studies. Northeastern has a global network of more than 3,000 employer partners, including more than 500 technology companies.
“We’ve proven that the model makes sense, that it works, and now we’re ready to scale it to solve a workforce development problem—but more importantly, a problem of social equity and inclusion,” Brodley said.