Rossier develops center to foster diversity in STEM

Tucker Judkins | Daily Trojan

The Rossier School of Education launched its newest research center, the Center for Empowered Learning and Development with Technology, in September 2017 to study techniques that may improve the learning experiences of underrepresented students by integrating technology into specific fields.

Brendesha Tynes, an associate professor of education and psychology at Rossier, is the founding director of the center and has been conducting research since 2001 on young people’s experiences online and how they relate to their academic performance and mental health.

“As I developed as a researcher, I started to think about ways that I could ultimately impact what was happening in schools,” said Tynes, who found the lack of diversity in tech companies troubling. “If we’ve been doing research in schools for all these years, why hasn’t there been any change in the percentage of people of color … that these companies are hiring?”

Tynes came to USC in 2012 hoping to start a center that would focus on technology and its relationship to the education of students of color. The center was launched this year with Stephen Aguilar, a postdoctoral fellow, as its associate director and Ashley Stewart, a doctoral candidate in philosophy, as its project manager.

Along with Aguilar and Stewart, Tynes assembled a team of researchers with diverse areas of expertise but all possessing knowledge of the histories and cultures of minorities.

“We want people who have been in these communities for years and studied them and continue to study the research that’s coming out of these populations,” Tynes said. “That’s the only way we’re gonna do research that’s … innovative and rigorous.”

The center aims to study and improve equity in technology education for students of color. Researchers will work to examine how students use technology both inside and outside of the classroom and how this relates to their educational experience.

“We really want to be able to tell teachers and tell educators how they should be engaging students, particularly students of color and students in urban populations, around technology use and media use,” Stewart said.

The first project that the center is working on is a media literacy app that will help students critically analyze messages that they see in the media. The center will also continue working on a project that analyzes computer science classrooms to tell educators the best way to teach minorities.

In the future, the center hopes to look further into how adolescents’ use of the internet affects their mental health and views on education.

“We’re recognizing that technology, social media, is a double-edged sword,” said Rossier Dean Karen Symms Gallagher. “We need to understand, particularly on young people, the effect of cyberbullying.”

These various projects look to ultimately assist educators teaching students of color about technology with the hopes of increasing equity in education and diversity in the tech industry. According to a 2014 report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 68.5 percent of high tech industry participants in the U.S. are white.

This is a statistic that many centers at Rossier are attempting to change.

“Our mission is to improve learning … and understand the ways in which equitable teaching, assessments and so on affect individuals students as well as schools and other systems,” Gallagher said.

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