Thursday, May 23, 2024

PVAMU receives new grant to help train students in computing to address social issues affecting rural communities

PRAIRIE VIEW – Prairie View A&M University has received a Responsible Computing Challenge award from the Mozilla Foundation, aimed at developing “curricula that empowers students to think about the social and political context of computing.”

Mozilla, most widely known for developing the Firefox browser, has made making the internet a force for good its mission. Through its Responsible Computing Challenge, Mozilla and its partners are educating a new wave of graduating technologists who will bring holistic thinking to the design of new technologies, fueling an industry-wide culture shift.

Dr. Marco Robinson, associate professor of history and assistant director of PVAMU’s Ruth J. Simmons Center for Race and Justice, along with Dr. Sherri Frizell, professor of computer science, and Dr. Farrah Cambrice, associate professor of sociology, are bringing together computer science and social science/humanities students for interdisciplinary training in methodologies centered in computing to address social issues affecting rural communities, such as food insecurity and access to immediate healthcare.

Robinson explained, “Students are expected to consider ethics in computing, developing innovative ways to use computing in solving social problems, and ways to center community welfare in their approach. At the heart of this work, students will collect survey data, hold small focus groups with community members, and facilitate county-wide townhall meetings.” The course is partnering with rural communities and organizations in Waller County, where residents have limited access to resources, including fresh food, medical care, and WiFi.

 

(Christina@wocintechchat.com / Unsplash)

“We aren’t deciding what the communities’ needs are,” said Robinson. “We’re asking what they need. We had an idea to develop an app to help connect people with food and healthcare, but if they don’t have internet access, how will that help? We’re in data collection right now. It’s exciting to see computer science students out in the field, meeting the people their work will support, and to see social sciences students explore technology in their work.”

PVAMU joins a cohort of 15 institutions across the U.S. that has received a total of more than $2.2 million. The courses and projects they’re undertaking blend traditional computing education with the Humanities, Library and Information Science, and Social Sciences to reimagine how computer science is taught. Awardees will explore topics like biased data sets, AI ethics, accessible computing, and more.

Dr. Ziyaad Bhorat, an RCC Fellow who will work alongside this cohort, said, “AI and other computing technologies have an outsized impact on our lives, powering everything from banking to public services to law enforcement. As a result, we desperately need trustworthy AI systems—and responsible technologists who build them. These new awardees will help make this a reality.”

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