Sense of Belonging

‘Sense of Belonging’ (SoB) is “one’s personal belief that one is an accepted member of an academic community whose presence and contributions are valued”. In the School of Computer Science, we have been monitoring our undergraduate students’ SoB since 2017. Our research has shown that students who identify as women and as a member of a minority have a statistically significantly lower SoB than men and women who do not identify as a minority [1, 2]. After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we found statistically significant reductions in the SoB of students identifying as men and those not identifying as part of a minority. Interestingly, we observed an increase in the SoB of students identifying as women and a minority [3].

Visualisation of the mean belongingness scores of women and men who self-identified as belonging to a minority or not, collected from 2017-2020.

At this point, we can only hypothesize as to why the SoB of students who do not identify as belonging to a minority decreased during the pandemic. Based on previous research we know that online environments fail to replicate critical facets of physical delivery [4], and that sense of belonging and physical campus space are tightly coupled [5]. Additionally, we observed that SoB appears to increase with social interaction [1]. We also know that gender, ethnicity and race impact sense of belonging [6, 7, 8] and we have observed a lower sense of belonging in students who self-identified as women and as belonging to a minority [2]. However, the reasons that these students experienced an increase in SoB since the onset of the pandemic seems unintuitive and requires further exploration. Recent research has shown that, for some students, working from home could provide a more supportive environment [9] and it is possible that using remote technologies can help to create a more inclusive environment [4]. Additionally, some of our results may not be due only to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other factors such as the globalization of the Black Lives Matter movement and other social factors may be impacting students’ SoB in ways that we do not yet fully understand.

This study has provided us with insights that may help us improve student SoB in computer science. We are extending this study across all Schools in the College of Science to provide further insight into factors impacting undergraduate SoB. The project is led by Dr Catherine Mooney and Dr Brett Becker, UCD School of Computer Science, with collaborators from each of the seven Schools in the College of Science. Our expectation is that increasing the SoB of undergraduate students, particularly women and other underrepresented groups in the College of Science will encourage a more diverse cohort of students to consider pursuing, persisting with and progressing in STEM careers, where they have traditionally been under-represented.

Authors: Dr Catherine Mooney and Dr Brett Becker, UCD School of Computer Science


[1] Catherine Mooney, Anna Antoniadi, Ioannis Karvelas, Lána Salmon, and Brett A Becker. Exploring Sense of Belonging in Computer Science Students. In Proceedings of the 2020 ACM Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (Trondheim, Norway) (ITiCSE ’20).
[2] Catherine Mooney and Brett A Becker. Sense of Belonging: The Intersectionality of self-identified Minority Status and Gender in Undergraduate Computer Science Students. In Proceedings of the 2020 United Kingdom & Ireland Computing Education Research Conference (Glasgow, Scotland) (UKICER’20).
[3] Catherine Mooney and Brett A Becker. Investigating the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Computing Students’ Sense of Belonging. In Proceedings of the 52nd ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE ’21).
[4] Julia M Markel and Philip J Guo. Designing the Future of Experiential Learning Environments for a Post-COVID World: A Preliminary Case Study.
[5] Michael J Stebleton, Krista M Soria, Ronald L Huesman Jr, and Vasti Torres. Recent Immigrant Students at Research Universities: The Relationship Between Campus Climate and Sense of Belonging. Journal of College Student Development 55, 2 (2014), 196–202.
[6] Catherine Good, Aneeta Rattan, and Carol S Dweck. Why Do Women Opt Out? Sense of Belonging and Women’s Representation in Mathematics. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 102, 4 (2012), 700.
[7] Colleen Lewis, Paul Bruno, Jonathan Raygoza, and Julia Wang. Alignment of Goals and Perceptions of Computing Predicts Students’ Sense of Belonging in Computing. In Proceedings of the 2019 ACM Conference on International Computing Education Research.
[8] Linda J Sax, Jennifer M Blaney, Kathleen J Lehman, Sarah L Rodriguez, Kari L George, and Christina Zavala. Sense of Belonging in Computing: The Role of Introductory Courses for Women and Underrepresented Minority Students. Social Sciences 7, 8 (2018), 122.
[9]Lauren S Schlesselman, Jeff Cain, and Margarita DiVall. Improving and Restoring the Well-being and Resilience of Pharmacy Students during a Pandemic. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 84, 6 (2020).


Sense of Belonging in 2022

Poster Title: Variations in Sense of Belonging in Undergraduate Computing
Students Through the COVID-19 Pandemic


Student sense of belonging, or belongingness, is important and
has been associated with motivation, persistence, and other out-
comes. However, belongingness varies according to factors such as
race/ethnicity and gender [ 2 ]. In previous work, there have been sta-
tistically significant differences in the belongingness of computing
students identifying as women and as part of a minority [ 2]. During
the COVID-19 pandemic there was a reduction in the belonging-
ness of students identifying as men, and those not identifying as
being part of a minority, and an increase in the belongingness of
women identifying as a minority [3 ]. Our current work shows that
the belongingness of men and women not identifying as being part
of a minority has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, despite re-
turning to campus, and a further statistically significant drop in
the belongingness of men who identify as part of a minority. This
work shows that further efforts need to be made to restore student
belongingness to pre-pandemic levels and may yield insight into
how events affect belongingness.


Paper Title: Student Sense of Belonging: The Role of Gender Identity and Minoritisation in Computing and Other Sciences

Full paper link:

Sense of belonging, or belongingness, is an important factor in a

student’s academic life as it is associated with factors such as motivation and persistence, in addition to mental health and well-being.
Belongingness has been shown to be correlated with factors such
as gender, race, nationality, socio-economic status, religion and
disability. Previous work has shown lower belongingness of minoritised women in computing compared to other computing students.
However, it is not well known how belongingness in computing
compares to other disciplines. This is a difficult comparison to draw
as belongingness is closely related to specific contexts including
learning environment, and therefore one’s discipline.
We utilised a survey adapted from the validated “Math Sense of
Belonging Scale” to examine the belongingness of undergraduate
science – including computer science – students. We examined how
the belongingness of students varies by gender identity and minoritisation, how the belongingness of computer science students
compares to that of other science students, and how the belonging-
ness of students in computer science varies by gender identity and
minoritisation compared to other science students.
In this specific study we found that belongingness is not statistically significantly different across genders overall. However, minori-
tised students have statistically significantly lower belongingness,
which varies by gender. We also found that the belongingness of
computer science students is statistically significantly lower than
that of other science students and that belongingness varies across
science disciplines by gender and minoritisation.
Our results provide insight that may help us as well as others
improve the belongingness of undergraduate computer science
students, with a particular focus on the intersection of identities. We
will explore the impact of interventions to increase belongingness
in future work.