This article is published in the January 2013 issue.

Expanding the Pipeline: Latinas in Computing Find Their Sweet Spot

The Latinas in Computing (LiC) community was established after a Birds of a Feather session at the 2006 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference (GHC). A group of energized Latinas from industry, government labs and academia met to discuss the strengths of the community and the misconceptions affecting us. We discussed different aspects of being a double minority, including the self-limiting beliefs that interfere with our ability to excel and establish ourselves as leaders in the computing community. With the help of the Anita Borg Institute, a listserv was created within the Systers community, and shortly thereafter, LiC created groups on Facebook and LinkedIn as well as a website that includes events, resources, a Twitter feed, and membership information with affiliations. LiC’s primary goal is to promote the professional growth of Latinas and to increase their representation in the computing community.

Latinas in Computing continues to thrive as a grassroots, self-funded organization, and actively participates in several national conferences and organizations (listed below). The Latinas in Computing founding members are:

  • Dr. Cecilia Aragon – University of Washington
  • Dr. Dilma da Silva – Qualcomm
  • Dr. Claris Castillo – IBM Research
  • Dr. Gilda Garretón (chair) – Oracle Labs
  • Dr. Patty Lopez (vice-chair) – Intel Corporation
  • Dr. Raquel Romano – Google

Latinas in Computing’s conference and board service includes the GHC organizing committee, the SACNAS program committee, the boards of CRA-W, Anita Borg, CAHSI, and CDC. Many are active in their local communities. LiC has presented a Speed Mentoring Workshop at GHC for Latinas and other underrepresented groups the past four years, and it has been the highest rated session three years straight. LiC was honored by the CAMINOS Pathways Learning Center, a San Francisco Bay Area non-profit, in 2009. Several Latinas have been recognized for their achievements and service, including:

  • Dr. Gilda Garretón, 2011 HENAAC Luminaries Award
  • Dr. Mary Fernández, 2011 HENAAC Outstanding Technical Achievement – Industry
  • Dr. Dilma da Silva, 2011 ACM Distinguished Scientist
  • Dr. Ann Quiroz Gates, 2010 Anita Borg Social Impact Award
  • Dr. Patty Lopez, 2010 HENAAC Community Service Award
  • Dr. Cecilia Aragon, 2009 Presidential Early Career Award
  • Dr. Nayda Santiago, 2008 HENAAC Education Award
  • Dr. Monica Martinez-Canales, 2007 HENAAC Luminaries Award

Latinas in Computing’s senior members are proud of the progress made by early career members of our community. By creating an inclusive and supporting environment, our next generation of Latinas have a better platform to excel and are quickly demonstrating leadership and technical prowess. Among others, Dr. Rosa Enciso (Microsoft) and Dr. Mirkeya Capellan (Sogeti USA) deserve recognition for leading LiC efforts for the Women of Underrepresented Groups Track for the 2012 Grace Hopper Conference.

Active in supporting K-12, undergraduate, graduate, and professional  computing pipelines, LiC has worked with the Anita Borg Institute to identify sponsors for student travel scholarships to attend GHC, and has hosted receptions and luncheons the past five years to connect with and engage Latina GHC attendees. LiC has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Computing Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institutions (CAHSI), an alliance led by Principal Investigator and Founder, Dr. Ann Gates, and with MentorNet, with support from Dr. Mary Fernandez, Chair of the MentorNet Board. In collaboration with former MentorNet CEO Carol Muller, a mentoring portal for Latinas was created in 2007. The Affinity Research Group (ARG) model established by Gates et al. engages and develops undergraduate students in research with the goal of extending research experiences to a broader range of students; as a result, more undergraduates are likely to pursue a graduate education. Dr. Gates also directs the NSF-funded CREST Cyber-ShARE Center of Excellence at UTEP, whose goals are to conduct research in collaborative cyber infrastructure and develop a STEM workforce capable of working in cooperative interdisciplinary teams.  Cyber-ShARE involves over 25 students and ten faculty/professional staff from computer science, computational mathematics, education, geosciences, and environmental science. Resources shared through the Center include such things as the visualization laboratory, scientific data, results, products, and expertise. This work allows computing students to explore interdisciplinary paths that will be critical for technology careers in the 21st century. These relationships strengthen the undergraduate and graduate computing pipelines.

Connecting the graduate pipeline to academia, the Paving the Road to Professorship for Female Students (Femprof) program at the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez was developed by Dr. Nestor Rodriguez, Dr. Omayra Ducoudray, and Dr. Nayda Santiago, and have been joined by Dr. Lizdabel Morales-Tirado (the latter two are senior LiC members). Femprof seeks to increase the number of females in computing who complete the PhD and become professors, and has adopted an approach where career, empowerment, and research workshops are used along with mentoring to increase the likelihood of females of going into graduate school and into successful tenure track faculty roles in academia.

In addition to maintaining their technical conference and research work, several LiC members also work with the following organizations to support outreach to K-12, academia, and women and minorities exploring research careers, delivering over one hundred keynotes, panels, workshops, and presentations:

1.     New Mexico State University’s Young Women in Computing program (Dr. Enrico Pontelli, PI), which has directly impacted over 5000 middle school, high school, and college students (YWiC)

2.     Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W)

3.     CAHSI Conference

4.     Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference (GHC)

5.     Coalition to Diversify Computing (CDC)

6.     El Alliance

7.     Anita Borg Institute (ABI)

8.     Regional Celebrations of Women in Computing Conference (MINK WiC, RMCWiC, NMCWiC)

9.     Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science Conference (SACNAS)

10.  The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Conference (SHPE)

11.  Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing (Tapia)

12.  National Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in IT (CMD-IT)

13.  National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), serving on K-12, Academic, and Workforce Alliance project teams

14.  Facebook groups for CRA-W, CAHSI, Latinas in Computing, Hispanics in Computing, and Women of Color in Computing.

Collectively, these programs have been highly effective in increasing the number and success of women and minorities in computing, several were originally funded by the National Science Foundation’s Broadening Participation in Computing Program (see “Telling the Stories of the BPC Alliances: How One NSF Program is Changing the Face of Computing”, by Chubin and Johnson, 2010 and “Broadening Participation – Why We Need an ACM Special Interest Group for Broadening Participation”, by Dahlberg, CACM 12/2012). From 1996-2005, NSF’s 2005 Survey of Earned Doctorates documented only 28 doctorates awarded to Hispanic females in computer science who were US citizens, an average of 2-3 per year. For the most recent NSF survey data that covers 2001-2010 and includes doctoral degrees earned by US citizens and permanent residents, there were 44 Hispanic female doctorates in computer science, averaging 4-5 per year, which is still only 40% of the total (112) of CS doctorates awarded to Hispanics, and only 5.6% of the 782 CS doctorates awarded. NCWIT’s “By the Numbers” fact sheet documents that in 2011, only 1% of the computing workforce were Hispanic women.

A Call to Action

Latinas in Computing members are talented, passionate, active, and engaged, and their work has had demonstrable impact on the Hispanic computing community. While there is clearly more work to be done in all stages of the computing pipeline, LiC is currently focused on women earning doctorates and women in computing research, where the largest investments have been made, where women are at the greatest risk for retention, and where role models and mentors have the most influence to grow the rest of the pipeline. The NSF BPC program has ended, and the BPC alliances have completed or are in their final phase of funding. Institutionalization and scalability at public Hispanic Serving Institutions (through the Great Recession, when state and federal funding has been at an all-time low and there is greater competition for the shrinking pool of grants) remains an elusive challenge at a time when the US population of Hispanics is growing. For the US to remain competitive in technology and computing in particular, these programs need funding to remain viable and effective. We encourage you to actively advocate for these and other programs that are literally changing the face of computing. Support their efforts by “casting a wider, more inclusive net”: Guiding state and federal policymakers, closing pipeline gaps by coordinating outreach at all stages of the pipeline (especially in K-12 CS education), increasing opportunities for women and underrepresented minority undergraduates to pursue research, growing minority faculty research collaboration across institutions and organizations, providing careful and deliberate consideration of exceptional proposals from minority serving institutions throughout the peer grant review process, and addressing the issue of pedigree that begins in high school, proceeds through higher education, and continues across a diverse spectrum of careers.

About the authors: Patty Lopez is a Platform Applications Engineer working on high end servers at Intel Corporation, and prior to 2008, was a Senior Imaging Scientist at Hewlett-Packard for 19 years. She currently serves on the CRA-W board. Gilda Garretón is a Principal Engineer at Oracle Labs, and her main research focuses on parallel VLSI CAD algorithms.

Expanding the Pipeline: Latinas in Computing Find Their Sweet Spot