Currently, there are only 93 male African-American computer science Ph.D. students in the United States. Of those, Morehouse College produced 12.
"This is counting every single black male from every school in the nation. Of all of those African-American Ph.D. male students, 13 percent are coming from Morehouse, from this lab. That's a historic number," says Kinnis Gosha, assistant professor of computer science and director of the Culturally Relevant Computing Lab at the College.
"Morehouse literally is changing the computer science field in terms of diversity with those types of numbers," he says.
According to a Taulbee Survey, only 17 people who identified themselves as black or African-American actually earned doctorates in computer science in 2014, with an additional two earning doctorates in computer engineering and eight in information.
"[These numbers are] important because of this nation's need to produce a STEM workforce," Gosha says. "That's where an overwhelming number of jobs are going. We need people with this skill set or we will have this nation bringing in people from [other countries]."
In fact, according to the National Math and Science Initiative, "STEM job creation over the next 10 years will outpace non-STEM jobs significantly, growing 17 percent, compared to 9.8 percent for non-STEM positions."
The Culturally Relevant Computing Lab hopes to boost diversity in the computing field with projects that minority coders, developers, and analysts can relate to in their own lives and within their own communities.
In one highly touted project working with STARS Computing Corps, a not-for-profit organization that builds and prepares a more diverse computing workforce, students use culturally relevant avatars in a web application designed to combat bullying in K-12 schools — a hot-button issue for schools throughout the nation. Called BullyShutdown, the application allows students, as well as teachers and administrators, to experience common bullying scenarios through conversations with avatars.
"Instead of having to undergo intervention after having been bullied or caught bullying, this training allows everyone to work though the interaction before bullying occurs," Gosha says. "If you train the students, you can reduce the amount of bullying that's happening."
Furthermore, trainers can customize the scenarios and avatars to simulate experiences users are most likely to encounter in their own lives, Gosha says.
"They create virtual humans who are culturally relevant. So if your avatar [and the user] is a black, basketball person, the user can relate to that person because they have the same struggle and are from the same type of school. He can see how that situation played out to determine how he should react."
Gosha, who earned his Ph.D. in human-centered computer science from Clemson University in 2013, created the Culturally Relevant Computing Lab four years ago. He is a STARS Computing Corps alumnus, having participated in the Corps while earning a master's in computing science at Auburn University.
This August, four more of his students entered doctoral programs in computer science, including Robertson Bassy at Auburn University; Jassiem Ifill and John Angel at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; and Zaire Ali at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.