Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Letters of intent (LOI)

Some granting agencies encourage (or require) applicants to submit a letter of intent before applying so the agency can decide on reviewers more easily. So, OK, coming up with a 2-page letter with one inch margins, 12-point font in an NSF approved typeface is slightly tiresome, but I write so many conference abstracts, it wasn't a big deal. Doing it while emailing drafts around with my colleagues while we are all on vacation and dealing with family stuff was a little more tiresome but still, it's only two pages. We got it done and sent it to our Office of Sponsored Research and Programs, and Nancy, one of our devoted pre-award staff, was to submit it through that delightful online Fastlane system.

Surprise surprise, when Nancy logged in she found that the Fastlane system had a different set of requirements than the program solicitation had listed. Since by then I was offline and we were up against the deadline, she and one of my other colleagues had to improvise, and they did yeoman work re-writing the letter to fit texts fields with very limited character-counts.

--I actually like character counts in one way; they force much leaner, more elegant prose. But trying to produce that on a short deadline is trying. To paraphrase something Henry Jenkins once wrote in his blog, I write long when I don't have time to write short.

Anyway, here's what we ultimately submitted:

Pilot: Increasing underrepresented groups in computer science through interdisciplinary and community collaboration

Historically, women and people of color have been under-represented in Computer Science. California State University, Stanislaus, designated as a Hispanic-Serving institution with an enrollment of over 50% female undergraduates, experiences this same under-representation. Faculty from an array of disciplines that span the physical and mathematical sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities have come together to develop a new curriculum based on an inter-disciplinary and project-centered approach, and to connect with students and teachers at the secondary level in order to increase underrepresented student population in Computer Science. Our approach will emphasize creativity, teamwork, and the development of projects relevant to students and the local community. These have been shown to make computer science more attractive to women and paint a more realistic picture of the skills needed for a career in computer science. We are transforming existing courses and developing additional ones to create new routes into Computer Scie

nce for our undergraduates, and to create new connections with the community. We intend to develop a new minor in Digital Media and a variety of courses and outreach programs to attract our target student population. These will include workshops for local high school teachers and students; and visiting speakers, artists and industry professionals who will make presentations to both university and public audiences, strengthening ties to the community and to other schools. The visiting lecturers will reinforce the practical application and ethical implications of the projects that the students are learning within the minor, and will make those relationships explicit to the public.

The target population typically chooses majors in English, Art, Communication, and Gender or Ethnic studies. Our experiences in those classes and observations of other programs suggest that many of these students can learn how to use sophisticated applications and become skilled programmers if they are taught in a project-centered way and if the applications and programming skills are presented as tools rather than an end unto themselves. They are interested in the ethical, pedagogical, and cultural aspects of computer technology. Our students have strong ties to local communities, thus projects that benefit local communities will be far more compelling.

Minor in Digital Media Capstone course: The capstone project will focus on archiving regional living histories and will have a slightly different focus each year. The specific focus will be determined by the students and will be influenced by the contributing courses from other departments, allowing direct relationships between courses revealing the intricate and overlapping ways in which the interaction of technology and culture affects all parts of our community.

Computer Science will develop a method to index and retrieve the content and the programming of the presentation. Art will contribute visual material and will
guide the design of the presentation created from the content collected. English and other participating departments will contribute interpretive content.

The presentation for the capstone course will be consistent from year to year, allowing for data integration and for the project to become more robust with time,
as each project forms part of a new digital library. During the capstone project exhibition, student creators will present and discuss their projects through public

Project-based courses and workshops for middle and high school students and teachers in digital media will be a method of outreach. These groups will collaborate on archiving the previous capstone project in an online format. In addition, we plan to have an ongoing speaker/exhibit series that brings prominent speakers from industry, arts, and academia to a university audience and also to forums in the community. These community lectures will be aimed at high school students in particular, as we work to attract new applicants to the program. The local city arts commission has already expressed interest in contributing to the realization of our projects.

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