New Fellowship Breaks Barriers for Diversity in Computing-Related Research

Last Mile Education Fund to invest $100,000 in ten students participating in computing research experiences for undergraduates (REUs) this summer

Lafayette, Colo.May 12, 2022 — Today, Last Mile Education Fund announced the ten undergraduates selected to receive a $10,000 fellowship through a new program that aims to improve diversity in computing-related research. The pilot program, called the Last Mile Fellowship to Broaden Computing-Related REU Participation, eliminates financial barriers that prevent low-income students from participating in pivotal research experiences during college.

REUs — research experiences for undergraduates — are critical to building a pipeline of computing students into graduate school and, ultimately, to technology research careers and academia. The National Science Foundation (NSF) provides the primary funding for REUs through research grants to universities and makes recommendations on the maximum allowable stipend per student.

“Unfortunately, like unpaid internships, the stipend offered for undergraduate research is often barely enough to cover housing and food — making it nearly impossible for students from low-income backgrounds to participate,” Ruthe Farmer, Founder and CEO of the Last Mile Education Fund, said. “Imagine moving to Southern California, Seattle, or New York for the summer for $5,000 to $7,000 without additional help from your family.”

This early gate-keeping unnecessarily shrinks the talent pool and ultimately inhibits innovation, Farmer said.

A typical summer REU includes a stipend of $5,000 to $8,000 to cover relocation, housing, and food. By contrast, an industry internship in tech pays upwards of $20,000 for the summer and often includes relocation, housing, food, and local transportation in addition to salary. This Fellowship brings the compensation for the summer REU more in line with an industry internship.

The following undergraduates are the first to receive grants under the Last Mile Fellowship to Broaden Computing-Related REU Participation:

Divine Akinjiyan, University of Missouri — Saint Louis,
Mathematics and Computer Science

Juno Bartsch, Haverford College, Computer Science

Aisha Frampton Clerk, Queensborough Community College,
Computational Science

Shane Dirksen, Cal Poly Pomona, Computer Science

Cassandra Gutierrez, Occidental College, Computer Science

Carola González Lebrón, University of Dayton, Computer Information Systems

Anna Sofie Nordstrand, University of North Texas, Computer Science

Diego Rivera, Iona College, Computer Science

Daniel Tolessa, Virginia Tech, Computer Science

Maya Zeng, California State University, Computer Science

Areas to be studied by the fellows range from healthcare to national security. They include computer vision, data science, data-driven security, natural language processing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, computational sensing for human-centered AI, virtual/augmented/mixed reality, adaptive interaction, and deep learning.

“This Fellowship will enable me to fully immerse myself in the research experience. As I prepare for my future graduate career and studies without financial burdens, I can take full advantage of the mentoring and networking opportunities to further my career, learn about the possibilities that await me, and focus solely on how I can reach them,” Fellowship recipient Aisha Frampton Clerk said.

Frampton’s love of design combined with her love of code led her to pursue a career in user experience (UX) design, she said.

This pilot initiative is funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, with additional support from the Hopper-Dean Foundation. Last Mile is conducting an evaluation and will share its findings on the feasibility of large-scale REU stipend subsidies in computing and data science fields to help diversify the STEM graduate school pipelines across related scientific disciplines.

“The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation is committed to the advancement of scientific discovery and investment in higher education. Enabling all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, the opportunity to explore research careers serves both those goals. We are hopeful this pilot program will provide insight into the ways financial factors limit participation in REUs and uncover potential solutions to address these obstacles,” said Janet Coffey, Program Director, Science Learning at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

The Last Mile Fellowship to Broaden Computing-Related REU Participation supports a diverse cohort that is 60% female, 30% male, 10% non-binary; 30% African American, 30% Hispanic, 30% White, and 10% Asian; and 70% of the Fellows are first-generation college students.

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About Last Mile Education Fund

Last Mile Education Fund offers a disruptive approach to solving for social inequality and increasing diversity in tech and engineering fields by addressing critical gaps in financial support for low-income, underrepresented students within reach of a degree. Unlike traditional scholarships, Last Mile takes a broad investment approach, identifying students committed to technology and engineering fields, providing agile, just-in-time support for challenges they face that are beyond their control, and incubating them to be the next generation of innovators. Last Mile Education Fund is a fiscally-sponsored project of the Digital Harbor Foundation. For additional information, visit LastMile-ed.org and follow us on Twitter.

Press Contact:

Margaret Bell
Last Mile Education Fund
Marketing Specialist
margaret@lastmile-ed.org

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Last Mile Education Fund

Last Mile Education Fund

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A disruptive new approach to increasing diversity in tech through investment in low-income tech & engineering students.