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!

PINC professional development event

by CS Major and PINC mentor: Aanchal Narad

PINC held a ‘Professional Development Seminar’ on the evening of Oct 27, 2017. It was aimed for PINC students to get the right motivation in terms of preparation, to get ready for industry level jobs. The seminar was strategically divided into 3 sessions- The Poster Session, Students Panel Session and lastly, tips from an experienced professional.


Poster Session

PINC students who are in the third semester of the program are taking CSc 698 Research Project Class this semester with Professor Anagha Kulkarni. In this class they have been working on interesting projects that involve biology concepts, along with utilizing their knowledge of computation that they have been learning in the past CSC 306 and CSC 307 PINC classes. These students affixed their posters on the walls and demonstrated the progress of their projects to the their audience. Overall, poster session helped the presenters to refine their presentation skills and their ideas on their projects while speaking and by getting feedback from the audience. It also helped students who are in the early stages of PINC program to be inspired by the kind of computational projects they will be able to do with the classes that they are currently taking.

Student summer experience panel

This panel consisted of three PINC students who gained experience over the summer working as interns.

The first student Gerardo Aquilar, worked at Genentech as a Data Analyst Intern over the summer. He discussed his process and time of application and how he got the internship. He said, “It’s because of PINC that I was able to get an internship at Genentech.” During the interview process, his interviewer was impressed when Gerardo mentioned that he knows programming in Python. The job actually required R programming, but the interviewer could see that Gerardo had the ability to learn R. Gerardo learned R by himself during his 3 months of internship. A student asked, “How did this internship benefit him?” To which he said that he now has data analytics experience which at first was alien to him. He was also offered a full time job at Genentech, which inspired many students to follow his route and take advantage of being in PINC program.

The next panelist Gabriella Tenorio, shared her experience of working as a research intern at SFSU as part of an REU program (Research Experience for Undergraduates). She shared how she heard about the opportunity and what the application procedure includes. She highlighted some important points about the application deadline, that students took note of. Her job as a research intern in bioinformatics included to look into HIV sequences, create simulations and much more. In the end, she presented her research to the entire department and tested out simulation work. She concluded by saying that she learned a lot in 9 weeks of research and 1 week of lab, and that students should check out SF State’s REU application and apply if they are interested.

The third student on the panel was by Nicole Rodrigues, who spent her summer at MIT. She discussed the requirements and eligibility criteria to get in the program. She was fascinated by the variety of research done by professors at MIT. During the summer, she had freedom to approach the professors and know about their work, so she gained a better idea of what interests her the most. Overall, it was a great experience to network and get familiar with the diverse research going on at prestigious colleges such as MIT.

The last student on the panel was Cheng Li, a graduate student in Computer Science at SF State. He was a Wind River Software Engineer Intern this past summer. He built Continuous Integration Infrastructure with Linux team. He emphasized to use certain keywords when making profile on platforms such as LinkedIn and Handshake. He shared his interview process and how important these projects are that students are taking in PINC. These are the kinds of projects that companies out there are looking for new graduates to have experience in. He next talked about the career fair and other networking opportunities.

Tips for your resume

The last session was held by Linda Chen, a well experienced professional from the Biology Department at SF State. She has experience in helping Biology students get a job in industry. She shared her insights on the websites where students have had success in searching for jobs. She gave very meaningful tips and tricks on improving your resume. She mentioned how important these skills are that students are learning in PINC. The programming and computational knowledge has an increased demand in the the industry and it helps students stand out from other applicants applying for the same job. She encouraged students to keep up their hard work in PINC because it will pay off in the end. They are on the right track!

The PINC students thought the event was useful

For example, one student wrote: “It was great hearing from students and how the CS skills has helped them get internships and jobs. Also hearing all the resume info and hearing ways to network and find ways to do with skills are all very valuable. PD is great and meeting/collaboration across cohorts is very beneficial. Thank you.


A lot of “firsts” for Darleen Franklin in the PINC program

Darleen Franklin with on the left: Kimberly Tsui (PINC student) and Patti Robb (Intel), and on the right: Belle Wei (Professor at San Jose State University) and Jordan Abraa (PINC mentor) at the WiE conference at San Jose State, March 25th, 2017.

I woke at 4am this morning thinking about the PINC program and what a difference it has made in my life.  

When I first heard about SFSU’s PINC program I never thought for a millisecond that I could be one of those students, least of all one of the first student to venture into the world of coding and applying it to my field of science of microbiology in the Department of Biology at SFSU.  The world of coding was foreign to me and I couldn’t see the connection between microbiology science and this technology.  As the first in my family to attain a college education and being the only female in my family, I have had to work very hard to achieve this education. Reading the words on the PINC flyer “designed to lower the barriers that biology students experience in learning computer science skills… ” and “NO prior computer science background needed! ” I decided to give it a try.

My first course was “CSc306 Intro to Java Programming” with a taste of App Inventor which I took in the Fall of 2016.  Before PINC I avoided even using a QR scan code but after learning  and using App Inventor I was immediately impressed with the PINC program!  I scanned my first QR code because of PINC in Fall 2016! The coursework and instruction challenged me to think outside the box.  

What stood out for me was the good this technology brings to humankind, as demonstrated in the App Inventor tutorial where we learned about the birth of the “No Texting  While Driving App” created by students learning coding just like me.  I thought what good could I do to help humankind using this technology.  At Christmas of 2016, while sharing what I had learned in CSc306 with my young adult step son came the idea of making an app to monitor drunkenness at the bar. Today that idea is now my team’s project for the final presentation in my journey through this program. 

Making a difference in my community as a female scientist

As a young female minority scientist, PINC gave me an unforgettable opportunity to meet some amazing women in science and engineering when I attended the Silicon Valley Women in Engineering Conference at San Jose State University in March 2017.  This was the first time I had been in room with hundreds of  women of all colors.  It was empowering!!  

This semester I learned about web page development and this was the first time I didn’t shy away from clicking on the View Page Source icon.  Seeing the html and Javascript code for that webpage was simply amazing to me.  It didn’t look foreign anymore!

Now when I read the microbiology scientific articles and I see the supplemental pages with coding for the additional data I do not shy away from it.  I feel more confident about my skills as a microbiologist to be able to access that data and learn more about the field of microbiology.

Today I am humbled by what PINC has taught me and can envision the bountiful opportunities that await the future PINC students at SFSU.  

I am making a difference in my community as a female scientist!  

Darleen Franklin

PINC Summer Program 2017

Screen Shot 2017-09-06 at 9.09.19 PM
(Text and photos by Dr Rori Rohlfs)
The PINC Summer Program trained 15 SFSU undergraduate biology students in computer programming, technical manuscript literacy, scientific presentations, and applied research.  With the guidance of near-peer mentors, the students worked in collaborative teams to learn how to program in either python or R, and then applied their skills to an original scientific research project.  Research topics included

  • Characterizing the Relationships Between Classroom Demographics, Survey Responses & Grades Using R
  • Modeling the evolution of alternative splicing rates
  • Predicting the Evolution of PrEP Resistant HIV
  • Quantifying relationship of google searches and STI rates

The program culminated in the students presenting their computational research projects in the poster session at the SFSU Summer Research Symposium.

Program structure

Students were grouped in teams of 3-5 students based on their weekly availability.  Each student team worked closely with a near-peer mentor 8 hours/week, and under the guidance of a faculty member (or two) who worked directly with the group one hour per week.  The participating students were all busy with classes, work, family care, and other obligations, so students were explicitly expected not to work on the summer program outside of the mentored hours (though some did).

The first 6 weeks, students focused on learning to program through free online courses, reading the scientific literature on their research topic, and practicing presenting to each other.  Some teams also started to play with data or “mini projects” relevant to their ultimate research projects.  The next 2 weeks, students delved into their research, be it simulations or data analysis.  The last week, students created posters representing their research and practiced their presentations. At the end of each week students wrote brief reflections on their experience and evaluations of their progress and the program

We held a weekly all-staff meeting to troubleshoot, respond to weekly student evaluations, and coordinate the ongoing program and projects. To keep the program running smoothly, the mentors and faculty used a slack group for quick daily questions and ongoing updates.  Individual mentors also communicated (via slack or email) frequently with their advising faculty to answer specific programming and research questions.
Each team of a mentor and students organically came up with their own communication structures as well.  Groups chose text, slack, or email to stay in touch.

Program evaluation

Pleuni and I had a great time working with students and mentors and watching their rapid development as programmers over the summer!

We are currently gathering data to understand how the program impacted students skills, motivation, and preparation for careers in science.  Look for a full description soon!


Faculty organizers and advisors: Pleuni Pennings and Rori Rohlfs
Coordinating mentor: Kadie Williams
Near-peer mentors: Sita Chamdrasekaran, Dwayne Evans, Ryan Ferguson, Kimmie Tsui
Contributing faculty advisor: Sepideh Modrek
For pictures of the event, see here.

PINC mentors lunch

The PINC mentors are graduate students in the computer science department who meet weekly with small groups of PINC students. At the end of the semester, Dr Kaz Okada treated the mentors and Dr Pleuni Pennings to a lunch.

Cherise Lau, Lijie Zhou, Yordanos Abraha Mogos, Pleuni Pennings, Kaz Okada, Rupal Khilari, Anu Aggarwal.