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Ohio State student organization wins Ford Fund grant to grow diversity in STEM

ACM-W student leaders in Garden of Constants
ACM-W project leaders (l to r) Sara Miskus, Angela Li, Milly Mason and Jing George. Bhavya Jayashankar not pictured.

An Ohio State University student organization is the winner of a grant that will fund efforts to improve diversity in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

The Association of Computing Machinery Women’s Chapter (ACM-W) at Ohio State is one of seven 2020 Ford College Community Challenge winning teams. Each year, Ford Motor Company Fund, the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company, invites students to develop and submit ideas for innovative projects that address community needs. Each winning team receives a $25,000 grant to implement their project.

“We’re dedicated towards empowering women in computer science,” said Sara Miskus, ACM-W student chapter president. “We do a lot of events that are centered around workshops, socials, professional development, company talks and basically just giving women the opportunity to network and gain opportunities in the technology field.”

Code I/O outreach event
ACM-W's 2018 Buck-I-Code, a free computer-science workshop for students ages 10-15, now called Code I/O

As part of their winning proposal, members will work with local public schools and College Mentors for Kids to distribute computer science starter kits to upper-elementary and early middle-school-aged children. The kits will teach the basics of programming logic and give students the opportunity to channel their imagination into a coding project.

“Our proposal was to help children and underserved communities, as we wanted to focus on both education and diversity, especially due to the growing concerns of the pandemic’s impact on academic equity,” Miskus said. “We wanted to make sure that underserved communities were getting those resources to explore STEM fields and make sure there is more diversity in engineering as a whole.”

The program also incorporates a one-on-one mentoring component for participating students. Due to COVID-19, this program will be conducted virtually for the foreseeable future.

Miskus, a fourth-year in computer science and engineering (CSE), said mentoring in the STEM fields is critical.

“Engineering is a hard enough field. When you may be the only person in the room who is a woman or is a person of color, it’s really important to have those allies to help and lift you up, support you and encourage your way through the technology field or engineering in general,” she said.

CSE major Milly Mason, community outreach coordinator for the ACM-W student chapter, agreed.

“ACM-W is a place where you can learn about computing, especially to empower women,” she said. "One of my favorite things about it is knowing other people that are in the same position as me as a minority in STEM. I kind of like that we all go through the same struggles.”

In 2018, Buckeye Precious Plastic, a student organization in the College of Engineering won the Ford College Community Challenge. Their program worked to find ways to recycle plastic and to cut down on plastic pollution.

In total, Ford Fund has distributed more than $3 million in global grants to support nearly 200 student-led social projects through the Ford College Community Challenge.

by Chris Booker, Ohio State News

Categories: StudentsOutreach