Using Degree Experience Plans to Improve Engagement, Retention, and Diversity of CS Undergraduates

Philip Johnson
University of Hawaii

The need: We believe that STEM disciplines such as computer science must develop new and better ways to improve: (1) engagement (i.e. wider interest in pursuing CS), (2) retention (i.e. the probability that students, once pursuing a CS undergraduate degree, will complete it), and (3) diversity (i.e. engagement and retention for women and underrepresented minorities).The Guiding Question: Undergraduate degree programs traditionally focus on a single single kind of activity (coursework) and a single metric for success (grade point average). The RadGrad project implements an alternative perspective on the undergraduate degree program to faculty, students, and advisors which gives first class status to both curricular activities (courses) and extracurricular activities (discipline-oriented events, activities, clubs, etc.)To establish the first class status of extracurricular activities, the Degree Experience perspective replaces GPA as the single metric for success with a three component metric called myICE that assesses student development with respect to Innovation, Competency, and Experience. Each student’s Degree Experience also includes a representation of their disciplinary interests and career goals that helps them assess the relevance of potential curricular and extracurricular activities. Finally, the Degree Experience perspective is voluntary. It complements but does not change any existing undergraduate degree requirements of a university.Our guiding question is: what are the challenges and opportunities involved with implementing RadGrad within STEM disciplines such as Computer Science and Computer Engineering? Outcomes:Over the past five years, we have implemented two major releases of RadGrad ( and deployed it to over 1,000 students in the Computer Science and Computer Engineering degree programs at the University of Hawaii. We have instrumented the system in order to provide quantitative insights into how students use the system, as well as qualitative data collected during the past 12 months from approximately 100 first year students, 50 second year students, and 25 graduates of the program. While analysis is still ongoing, preliminary results indicate the following key findings: (1) most first year students find RadGrad to be a valuable and unique resource for learning about the field of computer science; (2) second year students, while still positive, wish for features such as internships; and (3) most 2022 graduates did not find RadGrad to be particularly impactful, but that this might be due to COVID’s impact on extracurricular activities during their degree program. These outcomes motivate a number of recommendations for future use of RadGrad, including the inclusion of the InternAloha system for internship recommendation, and the importance of institutional and faculty buy-in.Broader impacts:The central broader impact of RadGrad would be to improve engagement and retention of women and underrepresented groups. In addition, RadGrad system is open source technology and the current version is designed for tailoring to different STEM disciplines and different university systems. It is currently available for evaluation by other universities and organizations, and we hope that the IUSE Summit yields partnership opportunities.


Philip Johnson, Carleton Moore, Seungoh Paek, Peter Leong, University of Hawaii