A new partnership between the University of Chicago and City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) will seed the next generation of data science educators and broaden participation in this rapidly growing new field, building an inclusive, scalable model for expanding STEM education and careers nationwide.

The UChicago – CCC Data Science Preceptorship Program, now accepting candidates to start in 2022-2023, will place recent Ph.D. graduates in teaching roles at both UChicago and the City Colleges and provide them with faculty mentoring and training in creating effective and inclusive learning environments. The program is part of a broader partnership between UChicago and CCC to strengthen STEM educational and career opportunities and create a more diverse field of professionals entering the sciences.

“A strong understanding of data science will be essential across countless fields in the coming years and this collaboration will ensure our next generation of data scientists will not only be able to analyze and apply data but also incorporate new perspectives and lived experience into solving critical real-world problems,” said Angela V. Olinto, Dean of the Physical Sciences Division at UChicago.

City Colleges of Chicago students learn in a wet lab in Abbott Memorial Hall on Friday, August 21, 2021. Photography by Eddie Quinones.

“The UChicago and CCC Data Science Preceptorship will develop the next generation of teaching faculty for data science, engineering and computer science education, emphasizing STEM pedagogy and broadening the preceptors’ classroom skills to enhance their teaching portfolios,” said Dan Nicolae, Faculty Co-Director of the Data Science Institute (DSI), Chair and Professor of Statistics, and Professor of Human Genetics, Medicine, Section of Genetic Medicine and The College at University of Chicago. “By embedding cutting-edge data science education in local community institutions, we aim to amplify career skills and STEM interest that leads to specialized jobs, higher earning potential, and a next generation of data scientists that reflects the diverse communities of our world.”

Graduates with skill in data science, technology, computing, and other related STEM fields are in high demand among employers, and the number of STEM degrees issued in the United States has grown in recent years. However, diversity in these fields has lagged behind overall trends.

According to a Pew Research Center analysis, in 2018 Latinx students earned 12% of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in the United States in STEM fields, and Black students earned just 7%. In 2019, Black students made up just 6.8% of all enrollees in master’s degree programs, 3.7% of all doctoral programs, and just 1.6% of postdoctoral researchers in science, engineering, and health fields.

The UChicago-CCC partnership will identify, create, and accelerate new joint initiatives focused on research and education opportunities for students and faculty in the sciences, as well as build new pathways for CCC students to attend UChicago and other outstanding research-oriented institutions.

“This relationship is about harnessing two of our city’s higher education assets to create unprecedented opportunities and, ultimately, a more inclusive economy,” said City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado. “With this collaboration agreement, we increase our capacity as an institution to be responsive to our community. We’ll not only create new pathways and internship opportunities for our students, but we’ll also build a pipeline of educators prepared to teach in new and emerging STEM fields. It promises to be transformative not only for our students but for our faculty — and for the students and faculty of the University of Chicago as well.”

One systemic barrier for improving minority participation in these areas is a shortage of qualified STEM teaching faculty, with a critical need in data and computing fields where student demand is rising. A lack of scalable post-graduate training pathways that provide the skills necessary for students to successfully enter these growing STEM education career roles compounds this shortage. Critically, these skills must go beyond technical expertise to training in equitable and inclusive teaching practices.

“We posit that an integrated, jointly-mentored and designed teaching postdoctoral position between CCC and UChicago will produce the next generation of STEM educators capable of successfully engaging students from diverse communities,” said Michael J. Franklin, Faculty Co-Director of the Data Science Institute, Liew Family Chair of Computer Science, and Senior Advisor to the Provost for Computation and Data Science. “Such a model of training will have immediate positive impacts on both institutions, particularly for students who come from underserved communities.”

The UChicago – CCC Data Science Preceptorship Program will accept recent Ph.D. graduates in data science, mathematics, statistics, computer science, and other STEM fields. Each preceptor will work a two-year term with an optional third year, and will alternate teaching between courses at UChicago and CCC. Preceptors will be partnered with a faculty mentor at each institution, receiving instruction and guidance on pedagogy, course development, assessment, student life and disability services, and other important skills for creating an inclusive learning environment.

In addition to broadening the pipeline for STEM education locally in Chicago, the partnership hopes that this preceptorship program will serve as an adaptable and scalable model for efforts to improve diversity in data, computing and other fields.

“The UChicago Data Science Institute was founded with the distinct goal of increasing the number of traditionally underrepresented groups entering data-centric STEM fields while producing the next generation of diverse data science faculty, researchers and educators,” said David Uminsky, DSI executive director. “As DSI seeks to train the next generation of outstanding, culturally-informed data science educators, this proposed preceptorship is a novel and sustainable way to achieve this mission.”

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