The Siena Plan for Attracting and Retaining Computer Scientists (SPARCS) is addressing the goal of producing one million additional college graduates with STEM degrees over the next decade, established in the February 2012 report by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). SPARCS builds on the success of the NSF S-STEM Tech Valley Scholars program and focuses on recruiting and retaining computing majors in high school and the first two years of college. The program includes a high school dual enrollment program that introduces computer science education to Capital District high schools that are currently not offering it. The program improves computing recruitment by offering high school students an opportunity to gain exposure to computing so they might better assess their interest in computing as a college major. The result is a larger and more qualified computing workforce in New York State's Capital Region.
SPARCS recruits and nurtures new computing majors through graduation, with an emphasis on recruiting and retention in high school and the first two years of college. High school recruiting focuses on using partnerships to institute an introductory computing course at schools that do not have computing courses. College level recruiting focuses on undeclared students in each of Siena's three schools (Science, Business, and Liberal Arts). Recruitment also extends to students struggling in their current major who have demonstrated strong academic potential for computing and may not have been afforded the opportunity to explore computing. Retention efforts concentrate on expanding undergraduate internships, incorporating classroom/lab assistants, and engaging students in other activities designed to foster a sense of community.
The project is being assessed and evaluated by an external consultant who has identified the following outcomes as a measure of the effectiveness of the program: the effectiveness of campaigns to recruit computing students into Siena, the impact of the SPARCS program on students staying in computing at Siena, the quality of student performance in courses and research projects, the number of students from underrepresented groups, and the number of students entering graduate school or the professional workforce after graduation.