This article is published in the March 2008 issue.

Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing: 2007 Event Strongest Ever; Next Event Planned

Expanding the Pipeline

The Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference, a biennial event sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the IEEE Computer Society (IEEE-CS) in cooperation with the Computing Research Association (CRA), had its most successful event to date on October 14-17, 2007 in Orlando, Florida. The conference is the premier event for the Coalition to Diversify Computing (CDC), a joint organization of the ACM, CRA, and IEEE-CS. The next celebration will take place April 1-4, 2009, on the West Coast of the United States.

The Tapia conference series honors the contributions of Richard A. Tapia, University Professor and Maxfield-Oshman Professor in Engineering in the Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice University in Houston, Texas. The conference has a strong focus on the participation of students, providing opportunities for them to discuss their career and research goals with national leaders in computing. Tapia emphasized, “This event celebrates the accomplishments of diverse scholars—from undergraduates through national leaders—in a setting focused on the achievements of minorities in computing. I have watched the participants from the early years of this event go on to become national leaders in their own right, and I look forward to each event to meet the leaders of the future.”

Tapia 2007 Conference: Top Attendance, New Sessions, and National Leaders in Computing Add to Conference Momentum

The record number of 413 attendees in 2007 included 231 students and 62 faculty members from 101 universities. More than 30 companies and research institutions participated in the conference, offering multiple opportunities to the students, including summer research programs, internships, and job prospects.

“The Tapia 2007 Conference featured a range of presentations that were both useful and informative to every attendee, whether they were an established researcher, mid-career professional, or student still exploring their options in computing,” said Tapia 2007 Conference Chair Monica Martinez-Canales of Sandia National Laboratories. “By all measures, we had an outstanding event, truly celebrating the accomplishments of minorities in computing nationwide.”

The Florida event included the inaugural Ken Kennedy Distinguished Lecture, established to recognize the contributions of Kennedy, a Rice University professor who was one of the world’s foremost experts on high-performance computing and was a champion for diversity throughout his lifetime. The lecture was given by Manuela Veloso, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, who spoke on “Multi-Robot Intelligence.”

Robotics was also featured through the Robotics Competition—a first time for the Tapia Celebration. Five teams of students from four universities in the United States and Canada designed, programmed, and sent their robots on competitive search and rescue missions. The Robotics Competition award went to the HMC Escher team from Harvey Mudd College, including team members Rachel Arce-Jaeger, Vedika Khemani, and Jessica Wen, with faculty advisor Zach Dodds. The Robotics Technical Achievement award was given to the Nexus 6 team from Simon Fraser University. Advised by faculty member Richard Vaughn, the team members were Lorin Beer, Angelina Fabbro, Angelica Lim, and Kathleen Tsoukalas.

The Doctoral Consortium provided an opportunity for Ph.D. students to discuss and explore their research interests and career objectives with a panel of established researchers. “The Doctoral Consortium was a great success,” said Co-chair Nina Berry of Sandia National Laboratories, who was also named as the Tapia 2009 Conference Chair. “The students’ technical interests ranged from optical sensor networks to numerical optimization and privacy issues, and the panelists were impressed by the students’ expertise and communication skills.”

A Commitment to Student Experiences, Networking, and Success

The Tapia Celebrations have a history of focusing on students, including their active participation in all aspects of the conference. The strongest support for their involvement comes from student scholarships to attend the conference, which are funded by conference supporters. At the beginning of the conference, a Student Orientation session provides them with advice on getting the most out of the conference. Students have a wide range of experiences—two examples follow:

Javier Rosa, a Rutgers University undergraduate with a double major in computer science and mathematics, attended the Tapia Celebration for his first professional conference. There he saw student presentations that helped him visualize his own participation in conferences. “I really enjoyed the exposure to other people who were promoting their ideas and experiences,” said Rosa, “as well as the opportunity to meet with so many role models and fellow students.” Immediately after attending the conference, Rosa’s research interests expanded to include biocomputing after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. “Participating in the broader research community at events like the Tapia Celebration is important to my career and my research,” said Rosa. “I expect to submit a paper to the 2009 event.”

Just after starting her Ph.D. program at Auburn University in the fall of 2007, Andrea Leggett’s major advisor, Juan Gilbert, suggested she apply for a scholarship to attend the Tapia Celebration. Her application was accepted, and she found the conference of value to her career: “I remember calling my mother, who is a professor, about one of the panelists—Valerie Taylor, the Chair of Computer Science at Texas A&M University—who really hit on the options people have in their careers, and the university environment, including some honest remarks about the need for training for teaching at the college level. I appreciated her honesty, and felt connected to what she had to say.”

Tapia Celebration Awards

In addition to the awards for the newly established Robotics Competition and the Ken Kennedy Distinguished Lecture, the conference includes the Richard A. Tapia Achievement Award for Scientific Scholarship, Civic Science, and Diversifying Computing and the conference best posters awards.

The Tapia Achievement Award, which recognizes outstanding achievements in scientific scholarship, a strong civic presence within the scientific community, and a dedication to the attainment of true ethnic diversity in computing and related disciplines, was given to Peter A. Freeman of Georgia Tech, formerly with the National Science Foundation (NSF). A special Tapia Achievement Award was given posthumously to Ken Kennedy, presented by Keith Cooper of Rice University to Kennedy’s wife, Carol Quillen, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at Rice.

A committee of nationally recognized researchers, led by Posters Chair Chuck Koelbel of Rice University, reviewed the posters for technical content and presentation. Graduate student poster awards went to Joy Kamunyori, University of Virginia (1st place); Tao Cui, Caltech (2nd place); and Talithia Williams, Rice University (3rd place). Undergraduate student poster awards went to Michael Eagle, University of North Carolina–Charlotte (1st place); Jerry Backer, City University of New York (2nd place); Lonnie T. Parker, IV, Georgia Institute of Technology (3rd place). In 2007 winners of the poster awards were entered into the national ACM Grand Finals for the Student Research Competition (SRC).

Tapia 2009 Conference: Building on Past Success with an Expanded Vision

The Tapia 2009 Conference Chair, Nina Berry, envisions a scope for the conference that will build on the strengths of the conference’s history, include the new programs offered in 2007, and expand the range of participants and the scope of presentations. “In addition to building upon the foundation established at the 2001-2007 events, in April 2009 we will highlight the diversity of the people behind the technologies that have driven the industry for numerous years.”

The Tapia Celebrations include plenary invited speakers, papers, panels, birds-of-a-feather sessions, the Doctoral Consortium, a poster session, the Robotics Competition, and several networking events, such as the awards banquet. National leadership has always been a hallmark of the conference. Invited speakers to date include: Jan Cuny, Program Director, Broadening Participation in Computing, NSF; Mark E. Dean, IBM Fellow and Vice President, IBM Almaden Research Center; Thomas M. Guerrero, Assistant Professor, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center; Norman Johnson, Chief Scientist at Referentia Systems; John Leslie King, Vice Provost for Academic Information, University of Michigan; Maria Klawe, President, Harvey Mudd College; Anne Kuhns, Director of IT Security, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts; Shirley Malcom, Head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Directorate for Education and Human Resources Programs; and Warren M. Washington of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and former chair of the National Science Board.

The Tapia 2009 Conference Committee is pleased to announce that Hector Garcia-Molina from the Departments of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University will give the Ken Kennedy Distinguished Lecture.

The conference would not take place without the sponsors—ACM and IEEE-CS; the coordination through the CDC; and the many Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Contributing supporters. The Tapia 2007 Conference supporters included 31 institutions from academia, industry, and the government that provided funding for student scholarships and conference activities, and participated in a “Pathways to Career Opportunities” where they provided information on graduate school opportunities, summer internships, faculty fellowships, post-doctorate internships, and employment.

Stay Updated!

Information about the Tapia Celebration is posted to the Website, Visit the Website and sign up for the mailing list to receive the Call for Participation and registration information for the Tapia 2009 Conference, April 1-4, 2009!

Ann Redelfs is a member of the Tapia 2009 Conference Committee and the Co-Program Manager of the Empowering Leadership: Computing Scholars of Tomorrow Alliance, an NSF Broadening Participation in Computing Alliance led by Richard A. Tapia.

Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing: 2007 Event Strongest Ever; Next Event Planned