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A DEI student ambassador leads a workshop at Hillside High School
April 3, 2023

UNC CS DEI Ambassador leads a workshop at Hillside High School

Earlier this spring, students from Hillside High School in Durham, North Carolina visited the UNC-Chapel Hill campus and Sitterson Hall for a “closing ceremony” celebrating the completion of a semester-long partnership with UNC Computer Science. Specifically, 15 high school students participated in weekly workshops taught by the UNC Computer Science Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Student Ambassadors and dedicated to learning about computer science skills and broadening an interest in the field. The workshops focused on beginner-friendly resources, culminating in projects executed each week.

UNC CS DEI Ambassadors are undergraduate students who serve as liaisons to current and prospective students, the community, faculty and staff, UNC alumni, and industry on topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. DEI Ambassadors are selected based on an application process and volunteer their time for these positions, with the expectation of being key representatives and significant contributors to the development of an inclusive community within the department.

The partnership between Hillside High School and UNC Computer Science is the first of its kind for the department. The program started in the fall of 2022 as part of an initiative to expand the department’s impact in the local community, particularly amongst K-12 audiences.

Briana Scurry, the diversity, equity, & inclusion lead for the department, led efforts to make connections across the Triangle and create opportunities that support and advocate for students with identities that have been historically excluded from computer science and technology.

“Hillside High School served as a great first-partnership. Activities, which were planned by the Ambassadors, allowed the high school students to feel more confident about their skills and more empowered to pursue an education in computer science after this experience,” Scurry shared.

Hillside High School serves students from historically underrepresented identities. Specifically, 72 percent of the high school students participating in the program identified as Black and 25 percent identified as Latino(a/x). While Hillside High School does have some computer science classes, the goal of these partnerships is to continue expanding opportunities for students from these historically excluded identities, positively impacting their future participation in the tech industry.

UNC CS DEI Ambassadors traveled to Hillside weekly to conduct workshops focused on building a basic understanding of computer science skills and increasing exposure to opportunities in the tech field.

Junior Bailey DeSouza, a UNC CS DEI Ambassador, participated in the partnership program this year. Reflecting on the experience, DeSouza shared that working with the high school students has been a highlight of her career at UNC. DeSouza also personally understood the impact a program like this can have on the students.

“Prior to coming to UNC, I had never coded before and did not even really know what computer science was! I took COMP110 out of curiosity and left the course loving computer science. One thing that was hard for me freshman year was finding resources to get started as a beginner, and finding reassurance that I can do software engineering (as a woman of color who had never been pushed towards STEM before).”

Partnership programs, such as the one at Hillside High School, allow students to see themselves as future computer science scholars, particularly for those underrepresented populations. UNC CS DEI Ambassadors serve as reminders of what the future could hold, reaffirming that a career in STEM is possible and attainable for them.

The department maintains goals and objectives related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and many grants and other funding sources received by the department, have requirements related to these efforts. Future partnerships, such as the one with Hillside, aim to serve as an example of an equitable and inclusive learning environment in computer science for current and future students. The goal is to create a culture of transparency, accountability, and support around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Learn more about the DEI Ambassadors on the ambassador program page and the department’s commitment to the advancement of historically underrepresented identities in tech on our DEI program page.