University News

University Professors Receive NSF Grant for Open Source Software Project with a Charitable Vision

Published: November 19, 2020 | Categories: Arts and Sciences, Alumni, Faculty, All News
National Science Foundation logo.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $559,057 grant to Western New England University (WNE) for its project, "Broadening Participation in Computing through Authentic, Collaborative Engagement with Computing for the Greater Good." WNE Professors of Computer Science and Information Technology Dr. Heidi Ellis and Dr. Stoney Jackson, are the recipients of the award with Ellis serving as the Principal Investigator.

The NSF funded project is a collaboration between five institutions: Western New England University, Dickinson College, Drexel University, Nassau Community College, and Worcester State University. Further information on the project and grant award can be found here.

The award builds on over a decade of work in education with Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software (HFOSS). HFOSS is software that addresses societal needs in areas such as healthcare, disaster management, education and economic development, and can improve computing education by providing experience with authentic computing problems.

"The research that Dr. Ellis and Dr. Jackson have been doing has already had a significant impact on the University campus, as they have begun to develop software for the Bear Necessities Food Pantry," says Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Computer Science and Information Technology Dr. Brian O'Neill. "They have both worked to incorporate this project into required Computer Science and Information Technology courses. Students have responded positively to being engaged in technological work that serves a greater need as part of their coursework. This grant will allow their excellent research into open-source software and computing for good to continue."

"HFOSS software projects provide students with a rich opportunity to learn and grow in a complex, authentic environment that supports collaborative, active learning with genuine tasks," says Jackson. "Students learn modern, contemporary software engineering and develop their professional skillsets while gaining first-hand experience and learning the value and impact of computing for the greater good."

HFOSS attracts underrepresented student groups to computing by demonstrating the positive potential of computing. The WNE project, "OpenPace", has demonstrated initial promise for HFOSS's project goal of attracting women and other underrepresented groups to computing professions improving diversity in the computing field while at the same time expanding the computing workforce for the 21st century.

"The lack of representation of women and members of other underrepresented groups in computing is a widely acknowledged problem," says Ellis. "I'm really excited about the opportunity to be able to create one solution to this problem and expand the number and diversity of groups in computing. It will allow us to expand that research to positively affect student retention, motivation, engagement, and professional identity."

To learn more visit Western New England University's Department of Computer Science and Information Technology.