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The CS Starter Academy to serve more than 200 City College students through programs that address barriers and support student journeys into computer science and technology

CHICAGO — The Discovery Partners Institute, part of the University of Illinois System, today launched the CS Starter Academy, a new, comprehensive year-round program to support City Colleges of Chicago students with an interest in computer science (CS) and technology while addressing the barriers they face when transferring to four-year universities and entering computer science and tech-related fields.

The program represents a partnership with the City Colleges of Chicago, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois Chicago, and has been made possible through generous support from Google, as part of Grow with Google, the company’s economic opportunity initiative.

Computing is the top source of new wages in the United States, and computer science accounts for the majority of new STEM jobs, according to However, Black and Latinx populations currently make up just 12-14% of Chicago’s tech workforce overall, an inequity driven largely by inadequate and uneven access to high-quality computer science education opportunities.

Community Colleges play an essential role in providing equitable access into higher education, however, fewer than 31% of these students matriculate to a four-year institution within six years due to barriers such as credit transfer issues, financial constraints, complexity of transfer processes, lack of self-efficacy, and inadequate support.

The CS Starter Academy offers a holistic approach to address these issues. Its goals include increasing awareness of the diverse tech sectors in Chicago, fostering belonging and interest in four-year colleges, encouraging students to envision themselves in CS careers, and clarifying the CS pathway from community college to a four-year institution. Students will also have the opportunity to earn an industry-recognized Google Career Certificate, which prepares people for entry-level jobs in growing fields including cybersecurity, data analytics, and User Experience (UX) design. The program includes an employer consortium of over 150 companies — including Google — that considers graduates for relevant open roles.

“The disparities in CS education have been driven by a lack of access, inclusion, and clarity about the pathways into these fields,” said Stephanie DeCicco, associate director of community college programming at DPI. “This new program will create greater access for historically underrepresented groups in tech to pursue computing fields and build smoother pathways to four-year universities and into a successful career in tech.”

“In order to build for everyone, we need everyone,” said Jessica Holberg, Google’s tech education outreach lead in Chicago. “CS Starter Academy is a needed program to work toward a Chicago tech workforce that is representative of Chicago. Google is proud to partner with DPI and City Colleges of Chicago to ensure that students access and thrive in a high-quality computing education.”

“The CS Starter Academy will go a long way in supporting students who are interested in computer science and technology here at City Colleges,” said Chancellor Juan Salgado, City Colleges of Chicago. “Community colleges are uniquely positioned to connect more Black and Latinx students to opportunities, and to creating equity in STEM fields. We are grateful to partner with DPI to do this important work together.”

The program offers individual academic advising, near-peer mentoring, support services, and resource materials to simplify the complexities of CS transfer, including credit transfer and financial aid. The program targets community college students on a four-year pathway, incoming and rising sophomores at City Colleges of Chicago, and past and current students participating in other DPI education programs such as Digital Bridge and Digital Scholars.

The program will serve 40 students in a cohort-based set of monthly activities and workshops that also are open to other City College students, bringing total anticipated reach to more than 200 students. Programming will run from fall 2023 through summer 2024, with more than 80% of students intending to transfer to four-year institutions.

Students who actively participate in the CS Starter Academy cohort can earn stipends that offset missed employment opportunities due to their commitment to the program.

The CS Starter Academy will directly benefit Chicago and greater Chicago-area community college students, with a focus on Black, Latinx, female, first-generation, and underrepresented groups in tech. The success of the CS Starter Academy hinges on partnerships with DPI, City Colleges of Chicago, and other support organizations in Chicago to ensure that the academy identifies and serves its target student population effectively.

This program builds on DPI’s suite of programs for K-12 and community college students as part of its Pritzker Tech Talent Labs Community Education Unit. This includes the Digital Explorers program for middle school students; Discover Computing, run in partnership with Wright College and Google, for ninth and tenth graders; and the summer Digital Scholars program, in partnership with the University of Illinois Chicago’s CHANCE program, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and the Grainger College of Engineering, for high school students to take college-level courses in computer science, data science, electrical and computer engineering, and mobile app development.

For more information about the program, or to get involved, contact Stephanie DeCicco, associate director, Community College Partnership at DPI at