By Ricky Lindsay, Senior Communications Officer, University of Detroit Mercy

Students participating in iDRAW (photo courtesy of University of Detroit Mercy)


This fall, high school students in the Detroit Public Schools Community District will have improved access to a high-quality computer science education, thanks to a partnership between the University of Detroit Mercy (Detroit Mercy) and Michigan State University (MSU). The two schools recently received a one million dollar National Science Foundation (NSF) collaborative grant that will expand Detroit Mercy’s iDRAW (innovating Detroit’s Robotic Agile Workforce) program by implementing AP Computer Science Principles courses at several Detroit Public Schools. The grant will also help high school teachers in the district to deliver high-quality computer science instruction.

The grant, titled “Collaborative Research: Moving beyond access, increasing teacher knowledge to teach rigorous equity-focused high school computing,” was awarded as part of NSF’s Computer Science for All program. “Locally and nationally, there is a great need for trained professionals to fill open positions in computer science and information technology,” says Richard Hill, assistant dean for research and external initiatives at Detroit Mercy’s College of Engineering and Science. “These are rewarding, well-compensated careers for which many underserved students don’t have access. This grant seeks to reduce existing barriers.”

For more than two years, Detroit Mercy’s iDRAW program has supported students at Melvindale High School and Cesar Chavez Academy High School. Since its inception, Detroit Mercy has conferred 255 dual enrollment credits to students and has trained teachers in ten Michigan school districts through the program’s teacher boot camps.

Students who take the new computer science course at Detroit Public Schools will learn a variety of important concepts, including coding, the operation of the internet, how information is stored and transmitted, as well as examining relationships between technology and society. Curriculum is structured to be both an AP and dual enrollment course, which allows students to earn high school and college credit for their coursework, rather than having credit awarded based solely on test scores.

“The NSF grant helps us give rigorous, university-level access to a lot of students,” says Andrew Lapetina, an instructor with Detroit Mercy’s iDRAW program. “Anybody can hop on a website and learn some basic coding stuff, but is that going to provide a student with inspiration or mentoring or feedback that they need to feel like they can be really competent in that field? This is what iDRAW will allow us to do.”

That inspiration comes in a number of forms. People of color who are Detroit Mercy alumni and work in STEM fields often speak to students in the iDRAW program about their pathways and expertise. Students also get first-hand exposure to robotics, engineering and computer science during field trips to Detroit Mercy’s College of Engineering and Science.

iDRAW utilizes a unique teaching model in which a College of Engineering and Science instructor co-teaches with high school teachers throughout the academic year. Lapetina will co-teach with several teachers in the district as the program expands to Detroit Public Schools.

In addition to co-teaching, the NSF grant includes teacher training to impact more students in Detroit Public Schools. MSU faculty Aman Yadav and Michael Lachney will evaluate the development of high school teachers and implement training on culturally responsive computing. Jocelyn Bennett-Garraway, director of school counseling and associate professor of counseling at Detroit Mercy, is a co-principal investigator for the grant and will evaluate the impact of iDRAW on the career development of high school students.

Hill, a principal investigator for the grant, says that it is based in Detroit Mercy’s Jesuit and Mercy missions because it “demonstrates the University’s commitment to being an engaged member of Detroit and to lend our expertise and resources to provide opportunities for underserved, local youth.” He continues, “The training will improve the teachers’ technical skills, while helping them to connect computing to the backgrounds and interests of their students.”

Lapetina has worked with local students since iDRAW’s inception. He believes that every high school in Detroit Public Schools should have a university-level computer science course for students, and is eager to see the impact of this three-year grant. “We’re working on improving our curriculum to better serve students of color,” Lapetina says. “Traditionally, computer science curriculum and education has been reflective of people who are prominent in the field. People of color have not always been recognized for their contributions. We’re hoping to change that with this grant.”

“If we’re able to expand this model and build teacher capacity across the entire district, the number of students who will end up being able to get four-year computer science degrees or four-year engineering degrees will improve dramatically,” Lapetina adds. “And that’s really the goal: It’s student-focused and student-serving, that all students have access to a really rigorous computer science course, and that students are feeling competent in their ability to enter a four-year engineering program.”

For more information on Detroit Mercy’s iDRAW program, visit To learn more about Detroit Mercy’s College of Engineering and Science, visit