Pinkard Receives Grant to Reduce Computer Science Deserts

Pinkard Receives Grant to Reduce Computer Science Deserts

Nichole PinkardNichole Pinkard, associate professor of learning sciences.

Northwestern University professor Nichole Pinkard (PhD98) received a CME Group Foundation grant to expand her work increasing access to computer science for K-12 students who live in underserved areas of Chicago.

Overall, the CME Group Foundation awarded more than $900,000 in new funding to Chicago Public Schools (CPS), local nonprofits, and Northwestern’s Office of Community Education Partnerships (OCEP) in the School of Education and Social Policy to support summer, in school and after-school computer science programs.

The grants are based on the results of a first-ever study conducted by OCEP and funded by the Foundation to map and identify computer science deserts in Chicago. Of the neighborhoods that offered programming, the study showed most only provided introductory-level opportunities.

The Northwestern study is “an important first step in understanding the opportunities available to youth in Chicago and connecting them to those opportunities, so they can pursue pathways to college and career,” said Sybil Madison, deputy mayor for education and human services in the Office of the Mayor of Chicago and former research associate at Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy.

Funding will support programs currently in place and throughout the next two academic years. Through these efforts, Chicago youth will gain hands-on experience with dozens of coding languages, computational thinking and engineering skills, video game and app development, robotics and other computer science activities.

Pinkard, associate professor of learning sciences in the School of Education and Social Policy and faculty director of OCEP, is an expert on creating and supporting learning spaces both on and offline. She argues that education should be reimagined as a networked ecosystem, one that connects formal and informal learning for youth and where information moves freely in and beyond school.

Her project, “Cultivating Chicago’s Informal Computer Science Learning Ecosystem,” builds on work that began in 2017, when the CME Group Foundation funded an initiative called Chicago City of Learning to identify every out-of-school computer science program available to K-12 youth.

This work produced Chicago’s first informal computer science program map (, but given the size of Chicago, it likely didn’t identify all the programs.

The researchers will develop a sustainable model to capture informal computer science opportunities, create a sense of community among providers, and identify patterns and gaps related to programming and participation.

“All students need computer science education throughout their K-12 years today to be best positioned to fill tomorrow’s job opportunities in the financial and technology sectors,” said Kassie Davis, executive director of CME Group Foundation. “These grants are a step toward closing the digital divide and increasing access to computers and technology throughout our entire community.” 




By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 10/29/19