PINC students are going places!

We try to keep track of where PINC students go and recently, many PINC students have been successful in getting into PhD programs or interesting jobs.

Last year, Cecelia Brown did an internship at IBM Research and started a PhD program at Stanford. Ezequiel Lopez started a job doing data analysis for the SF BUILD program on our campus. But graduation from PINC doesn’t necessarily happen at the same time as graduation from SFSU, so many of the PINC 2018 students are now graduating and going different places. 

Nicole Rodrigues (PINC 2018) got accepted in the Biochemistry, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology program at UC Davis. She also received an honorable mention for her GRFP proposal!
Francisca Catalan (PINC 2018) got accepted into the Bioinformatics PhD program at UCSC.
Sita Chandrasekaran (PINC 2018) is going to be a PhD student in the UCSF-UCB joint Bioengineering program.
Ryan Winstead (PINC 2018) will be doing an internship at IBM Research this summer. 
Mayra Banuelos (PINC 2018) was selected for the Opportunities in Genomics Research Undergraduate Scholars Program at Washington University.
Emily Fryer (PINC 2018) started a job at the Carnegie Institute’s Department of Plant Biology on Stanford’s campus as a Bioinformatics Research Assistant.
Alia Edington (PINC 2019) is going to do a PhD at UT Southwestern. 
Hailey Garma (PINC 2020) is going to the SIREN REU program (Summer Intensive Research Experiences in Neuroscience) at the University of Michigan.
Maria Flores (PINC 2020) is going to the Jackson labs this summer for an REU program.
Caroline Solis (PINC 2020) is going to do an internship this summer at the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology at the University of Maryland, College Park.

PINC students visit Pugh lab at Stanford

Dr Carla Pugh is a surgeon, researcher and educator. In her lab, she builds anatomical models with sensors that interface with computers to help medical professionals learn how to use touch better, in other words, to train their haptic skills. Touch is key for many medical examinations (e.g., finding a lump in a breast) but it is hard to train people to do such examinations correctly. To learn more about her work have a look at this Ted Talk:

On March 4th, 2019, Students from the PINC program at SFSU and the Howard West Program at Google were invited to visit her lab and learn about her work.

A special treat for the PINC students was that we got to talk to Cecilia Brown, a PINC alum who is now a PhD student at Stanford.

PINC students and Howard West students at Stanford, with Alycia Onowho and Dr Ilmi Yoon (lower left corner), Dr Carla Pugh (in the middle with the blue top) and Cecilia Brown (next to Dr Pugh, with the Stanford hoodie). Photo by Cassidi Goll (Stanford).
PINC and Howard West students listen to Dr Ilmi Yoon (SFSU), Dr Olumide Malomo (Howard West) and Dr Carla Pugh (Stanford). Photo by Cassidi Goll (Stanford).
Oned of the students tries out one of the training models. Photo by Cassidi Goll (Stanford).
Cassidi Goll shows two breast models with sensors that are used to train haptic skills (touch).
PINC students and Howard West students listen to Dr Carla Pugh in her lab. Photo by Cassidi Goll (Stanford).

NSF grant will support PINC in next 5 years!

The PINC program started in 2016 as a collaboration between the CS and Biology Departments at SFSU. Now, two years later, we are extremely happy to announce that were awarded 1.3 million dollars from the NSF to continue our efforts in the next 5 years!
The money will be used to run separate PINC sections for CS classes, to hire PINC mentors, to run the PINC summer program and to do research on how we can best support women and students from underrepresented groups in their CS journey.

The “splicing team” did computational research on alternative splicing during the 2018 summer program.

Abstract of the NSF proposal

This project aims to address two pressing needs in STEM education: 1) increasing the number of students graduating with expertise in data and computer science; and 2) improving diversity in STEM fields. The project team at San Francisco State University (SFSU) will achieve these goals by developing and implementing a Computing Application minor. This minor will use evidence-based approaches to attract, retain, and support students, with attention to students from groups that are underrepresented in computer/data science, including female students. By tailoring activities to students’ majors, the project expects to increase student engagement and help students experience how data and computer science are applied in their majors and future professions. Students in the minor will have opportunities to work with local industry and governmental agencies. In addition, this project will link to the NSF INCLUDES project at SFSU. As a result, the Computing Application minors will be able to work with high school students as computer science mentors and role models. These experiences can support development of critical skills, including leadership. The project aims to provide a sustainable and scalable model for introducing data and computer science to science majors that can be adopted by other institutions, and that can broaden participation in those fields.

The Computing Application minor will be a four-semester, five-course sequence designed for STEM students who have no prior computer/data science knowledge and who are taking a full course load in their major. The project will provide participating students with learning experiences related to their majors, train computer science faculty in evidence-based science teaching methods, and invite students to share their knowledge with the K-12 community. To reduce stereotype threat and imposter syndrome, the project will employ a cohort-based structure that uses peer, faculty, and industry mentors to create a nurturing and supportive community of learners. The project will identify pedagogies that promote students’ interest in computer/data science and their motivation to use it in their majors. These research results can inform other efforts to broaden the diversity of people who have computational expertise, and who decide to pursue graduate degrees and careers in computer/data science.

Students learn data science skills in the 2018 Big Data Summer Program

AllBDSPStudentsEight teams of mostly undergrad students from Biology, Biochemistry, Economics and other disciplines spent 9 weeks during the summer of 2018 learning “Big Data” skills.  Each team was led by a senior undergrad or graduate student, with support from a professor. The program was run by Drs Rori Rohlfs (biology), Nicole Adelstein (chemistry), Sepideh Modrek (economics) and Pleuni Pennings (biology).

During the 9 weeks of the program, students worked in small groups for 10 hours a week on campus. In the first weeks of the program, each team worked through an online class, and then they applied their new skills to a research project. For example, one team learned data science skills in R and then analyzed data on the experience of students in our local REU program. Another team learned machine learning skills and then worked on a project to determine the subtype of an HIV sequence using machine learning algorithms.

Many of the students in the program were recruited to the different labs on campus to continue doing computational research. Several students joined the PINC program to take their first CS class.

Two peer-reviewed articles about the PINC program

The professors involved in the PINC program have collaborated to write two papers on the PINC program. Here are the abstracts and links to the pdfs.

Promoting Inclusivity in Computing (PINC) via Computing Application Minor

Ilmi Yoon, Pleuni Pennings, Anagha Kulkarni, Kaz Okada, Carmen Domingo

Abstract— We aimed to build a new educational pathway that would provide basic training in computer science for women and students from underrepresented (UR) groups who otherwise may not take computer science classes in college. Specifically, this on-going project focused on creating a 2-year Computer Science (CS) program consisting of exciting new courses aimed at biology majors. Biology traditionally attracts large numbers of women, a significant number of students from UR groups, and has compelling needs for CS technology. The interdisciplinary program is training the next generation of innovators in the biological sciences who will be prepared to cross disciplinary boundaries. The program consists of the following: (1) computer science courses with content related to biology, (2) cohorts of students that progress through the program together, and (3) a small group peer mentoring environment, and (4) facilitated interdisciplinary research projects. Graduates from this program, referred to as “PINC” – Promoting INclusivity in Computing – will receive a “Minor in Computing Applications” in addition to their primary science degree in Biology. The program is now in its second year and thus far 60 students have participated. Among them, 73% are women and 51% are underrepresented minorities (URM). The majority of students in the PINC program stated that they would not have taken CS courses without the structured support of the PINC program. Here we present the data collected during this two year period as well as details about the Computing Application minor and programmatic components that are having a positive impact on student outcomes.

Promoting Diversity in Computing

Anagha Kulkarni, Ilmi Yoon, Pleuni Pennings, Kaz Okada, Carmen Domingo

Abstract: In this paper we present a pilot program at San Francisco State University, Promoting INclusivity in Computing (PINC), that is designed to achieve two goals simultaneously: (i) improving diversity in computing, and (ii) increasing computing literacy in data-intensive fields. To achieve these goals, the PINC program enrolls undergraduate students from non Computer Science (non-CS) fields, such as, Biology, that have become increasingly data-driven, and that traditionally attract diverse student population. PINC incorporates several well-established pedagogical practices, such as, cohort-based program structure, near-peer mentoring, and project- driven learning, to attract, retain, and successfully graduate a highly diverse and interdisciplinary student body. On successful completion of the program, students are awarded a minor in Computing Applications. Since its inception 18 months ago, 60 students have participated in this program. Of these 73% are women, and 51% are underrepresented minorities (URM). 74% of the participating students had nominal or no exposure to computer programming before PINC. Findings from student surveys show that majority of the PINC students now feel less intimidated about computer programming, and vividly see its utility and necessity. For several students, participation in the PINC program has already opened up career pathways (industry and academic summer internships) that were not available to them before.

Screenshot 2018-06-10 10.24.41
Figure 2 from Kulkarni et al, 2018 shows that the PINC program (the two bars on the right) attracts and retains a higher fraction of women than the CS major (on the left) . Original caption: Gender distribution of students at the start and end of the CS bachelors program, and PINC program. For CS bachelors, start: CSc 210, and end: CSc 699. For PINC pro- gram, start: CSc 306, and CSc 698.

PINC Professors Picture 2
Dr Anagha Kulkarni, Dr Ilmi Yoon, Dr Pleuni Pennings, Dr Kaz Okada.

Dr Carmen Domingo, PINC Co-PI and Interim Dean of the College of Science and Engineering at SFSU.


Increasing number of Bio Majors taking CS classes

The PINC program is a collaboration between the Biology and the CS department. One of our goals is to make CS more accessible for non-CS majors, and one way to track our success is to see if the number of Biology students who are taking CS classes is increasing. We just got the data for Fall 2017 and we see that the fraction of Biology majors (undergraduates) who are taking a CS class has increased for the 3rd time in a row. The PINC program launched in Fall 2016. Thanks to Institutional Research for providing the data!


PINC by the numbers

The PINC program offers CS classes to Biology and Biochemistry students. When we started PINC, we believed that offering classes (or sections of classes) specifically for Biology and Biochemistry students, would attract more women and students from underrepresented minorities to CS classes. The PINC students are supported by mentors who meet with small groups of students every week. We hoped that this additional support would help students feel comfortable in the CS classes and lead to high persistence from one class to the next. In the past winter break, we decided to take some time to crunch the numbers. The Office of Institutional Research helped us with this analysis.

  1. More than 70% of PINC students identify as female, as opposed to 19% among CS Majors, which is an increase of almost three-fold (290%). GenderPINC
  2. We find that over half of the PINC students in the first three semesters of the program identify as Black or Latino, whereas just over one quarter of students in the CS major identify as Black or Latino. The fraction of Black and Latino students in the PINC program is 93% higher than the the fraction of Black and Latino students in the CS major (51% vs 26%). EthnPINC
  3. Although the PINC program is still small, the number of Bio Majors who are enrolled in a CS class has grown since the fall of 2016 when we started the PINC program. NumStudentsCSBio
  1. Bio Majors who take a CS class (out of interest or to fulfill a requirement), usually don’t come back to the CS department to take a second CS class (19% does come back for a second CS class). Among the PINC students in the first two cohorts, 65% came back to take a second class, which is a 250% increase. PersistancePinc

PINC student Kimberly Tsui paying it forward and swimming in the code cloud

By PINC student Kimberly Tsui


I am not the typical student. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology: Concentration in Microbiology from SFSU in 2007. I am currently a full-time staff member in the Biology Department. I have been married for 15 years. I have 2 children in elementary school, for whom I am the sole caregiver every week day. Additionally, my son has special needs which requires behavioral and speech therapy since he was 2 years old, all of which severely limits my schedule.

Being a busy Mom, out of school for 10 years, while maintaining a full-time job, I wondered, how I could ever take on learning something that I knew absolutely nothing about. Plus, I have always been technologically challenged, I have never enjoyed playing video games, and Math was not my best subject, so for me learning computer science was unthinkable!

I first heard about the PINC Program from a flyer and attended their informational luncheon to learn more about this seemingly fantastical opportunity for a complete novice to learn coding applicable to Biology in a short 2-year program with no Computer Science (CS) experience required. Just the idea was unheard of and I was convinced it sounded way too good to be true.

“I applied, but assumed I would not be accepted”

Attending this meeting helped me to break through my mental barrier that told me CS was too difficult for me. After serious consideration and much trepidation, I decided to take the plunge and submit my application, assuming (and kind of hoping) that I would denied because I was too old, or out of school too long, or outcompeted by better student applicants. Lucky for me they decided to take a chance. When I found out I was accepted into the first cohort, I was both honored and terrified at the same time. Now I am amazed every day at how much I have learned in such a short period of time about a subject I originally felt I could never ever understand.

Getting started

CSc 306 utilized App Inventor, which provided the basic structure of coding blocks without having to worry about the syntax. This was a great introduction to coding because it allowed us to create a software application to familiarize us with the concept of coding. Then, we moved onto Java and over the next few semesters: Data Structures, CSS, HTML, Javascript, PHP, AJAX, and MySQL. All combined, these CS courses turned out to be a lot more difficult than I ever could have imagined. Thankfully, the faculty successfully introduced all these new languages and concepts in a way that truly anyone could understand using real world comparisons and examples.

While in CSc306, I quickly realized coding truly was an alien language, based on an alien alphabet, using alien logic. Luckily, with the support of the PINC mentors, dedicated faculty and staff and lots, and lots, and lots of practice, I am so much more comfortable looking at coding, understanding what the code is supposed to do, finding online resources, and even writing my own programs than I ever thought possible. I’ve taken many difficult courses over my lifetime, but learning CS has been the most difficult academic challenge I’ve ever encountered.

“I had to learn that it’s OK I can’t remember everything and that I am supposed to “Google” questions”

During this stint into the world of CS, I’ve had to completely change my learning style and accept that it’s OK I can’t remember everything and that I am supposed to “Google” questions. That being said, I also realized that employing this method to obtain information also meant you needed to have a clear understanding of your goal to adapt the online information to fit your specific needs. Coding is a lot like cooking. First, you need to figure out what you want to make. Are you baking a cake or making a salad? Then, you need to troubleshoot, research, collaborate, and find the tools required to create the cake or salad you’re trying to make. There are endless ways to prepare cakes, salads, and programs, alike.

Mentoring opportunities

After only my first semester in the PINC program, a few members of our cohort, decided to share the fun and excitement of our newfound App Inventor knowledge to teach middle school girls to code during EYH 2016. In addition, I was also able to be a near peer mentor to 5 undergraduate students during the PINC Summer Program 2017 where we learned R Programming, trained them in technical manuscript literacy, scientific presentations, and in applied research. My group presented our poster, “Quantifying the Relationship of Google searches and STI Rates” at the SFSU Summer Research Symposium. I really enjoyed both of these mentoring opportunities and I had a blast working together in collaborative learning environments.

There is no way I could’ve ever imagined the amount of frustration and elation involved in Computer Science. Coding became so addicting that time would fly by so fast, it was morning before I even realized it. Don’t get me wrong, the challenges presented by these CS PINC courses were almost unbearable, but being in a cohort surrounded by only PINC peers, all struggling and collaborating together, really made all the difference.

Computer Science in my future

I look forward to using CS more in my current job and, once my children are a little more independent, I hope to explore the possibility of getting my Master’s of Science degree incorporating Computer Science into Biology. I am also happy that I understand so much more about the technological world around me that I’ve tried to ignore for so long. I can no longer say that my children understand more about technology than I do.

Thank you to all the PINC Program faculty for taking a chance on me and helping me to venture out of my comfort zone and develop an understanding of computer science and the technology around me. This experience has been amazing and truly unforgettable. I can’t wait to continue working on our app next semester!