Summer in STEM scholarship provides opportunities to improve representation in Computer Science

The Black Lives Matter movement has (re)highlighted systemic inequalities within our social structures, including Higher Education (HE), that require immediate attention. Efforts to decolonise research and curricula must be accompanied by real investment in communities that have been historically disadvantaged or excluded from HE or specific domains, like STEM. 

To contribute to balance and improved representation in the field of Computer Science, KMi has created a summer scholarship, specifically directed at young, would-be researchers from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. The purpose of the Summer in STEM scholarship is to provide real work experience and mentorship to young people, which can influence future opportunities. 

Our first intern, 16 year-old Azizah Blackwood, is a talented programmer and developer, who plans on working in game design in the future. We had worked with Azizah in the past through our Work Experience programme, in which she helped us develop a voice skill for Alexa. This summer, Azizah was involved in creating our first ever fact-checking chatbot. Under the mentorship of Senior Research Fellow Dr. Lara Piccolo, alongside Dr. Tracie Farrell and programmer Chris Sanders (from our development team), Azizah was able to connect a large database of fact-checking articles with a chatbot interface. The interface assesses Twitter profiles and looks for the amount of misinforming claims they have shared (based on fact-checkers’ assessments). The bot is also set up to provide users with small insights about misinformation. This tool is a real research output, funded in part by the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF). Azizah will also be co-author on a scientific paper outlining this contribution. At the end of the internship, Azizah told us that she has gained new skills, more confidence and useful contacts for her future in Game Design. She has also already developed a piece of interactive research software that she can put on her CV. If you want to contact Azizah about hiring her, please get in touch with us and we will pass it on. She’s currently looking for a second internship as a requirement for her Game Design programme. 

Recent figures from Black British Professionals in STEM (BBSTEM) indicate that only 6.2% of Black students living in the UK are enrolled in STEM subjects (and a large part of that percentage are coming from abroad). In terms of teaching staff, only 0.5% of professors in the UK are Black, a leaky pipeline that follows all the way down to postgraduate and graduate work. Offering personalised, paid, professional internships to young people interested in STEM will improve our ability to meet them, find out more about their specific needs and create appealing opportunities that challenge and excite.

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