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I’ll never forget the day I realized being a black CS student was going to be a lonely ride. I went to an NSBE event for freshmen and saw one black upperclassman studying CS. I expected there to be a community of support and representation, but there wasn't. After my performance in a couple of intro courses and securing my first internship, I was looked up to as some sort of anomaly in the community. I welcomed the support and praise, as any freshman would, but fundamentally disagreed with its roots. I knew my peers were more than capable, they just needed a reason to believe it.
This motivated me to change the narrative because I knew we were fully capable of succeeding in tech. So, as a sophomore, I began mentoring students academically and helping them prepare for the internship application process. I also became a TA for Discrete Mathematics, which was a course that was “weeding out” minority students at a rate three times higher than any other group. Although I enjoyed pouring into these students, I could not sustain the amount of time I was spending on mentorship. I needed to scale the impact.
To do this I got involved with an organization that eventually became the Cornell chapter of ColorStack. We started implementing new initiatives like weekly office hours, monthly general body meetings, and a cracking the coding interview course. Even without these initiatives, the mere act of bringing together these students that share identities brought hope into the experience. Just knowing that they aren't alone can be the difference between a student switching their major or persisting through.
With graduation approaching, I felt more and more compelled to continue this work as I learned about retention on other campuses. I spoke to Black and Latinx CS students studying at the top 16 CS programs in the country and most, if not all, shared the same narrative of a few key problems:
Black and Latinx students who are interested in tech decide against pursuing CS out of fear.
Black and Latinx students who pursue CS end up dropping the major by a lack of academic support and representation. A cycle that repeats itself.
Black and Latinx students who do stick it out are falling short of their potential when it comes to pursuing a career path.
Interestingly enough, a student at Brown University told me about a ColorStack-like club called Mosaic+ on their campus and left me with a quote: “Without Mosaic+, I would not have succeeded in Computer Science… It’s like my safe space on campus.”
That was it. More campuses needed clubs like ColorStack and Mosaic+ to exist. But who has the time to wait for someone to eventually build them? It took one conversation with Makinde Adeagbo, Founder of /dev/color and a founding ColorStack Board Member, to convince me that I should do it.