On April 23-24, CRA-WP was thrilled to hold the 2021Grad Cohort Workshop for Women after canceling the previous year’s event because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Grad Cohort for Women 2021 was quite different than previous Grad Cohorts as it was held virtually using the Socio event platform. The workshop still consisted of advice panels by professors and research scientists, research discussion sessions, a keynote talk, one-on-one mentoring sessions, an exhibit hall, and even food breaks complete with a customized snack box delivered in advance. Attendance was strong with 375 students, 35 speakers and mentors, 36 sponsors and 14 staff present.
Computing Research News
“Expanding the Pipeline” is a regular column in Computing Research News. The column serves both as a vehicle for describing projects and issues related to women and underrepresented groups in computing. The column is guest-authored by individuals who share their insight and experiences from their active participation in programs designed to involve women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in education and research. Patty Lopez is the column editor.
Five years ago, we wrote in this column about the research our team was initiating on the BRAID (Building Recruiting and Inclusion for Diversity) initiative, a coordinated effort among 15 universities to increase representation among women and Students of Color in their undergraduate computing programs. Over these past five years, the BRAID institutions have indeed made significant strides towards greater diversity. Collectively, while BRAID departments experienced an 87% increase in overall undergraduate computing enrollments, such increases were even larger among women (139%), BLI (Black, Latinx, and Indigenous) students (106%), and BLI women (127%). While there is much more work to be done in order to achieve gender and racial/ethnic parity in computing representation (not to mention fostering more inclusive environments), these figures certainly reflect progress. Further, such progress was not experienced by BRAID institutions alone, as data from the nationwide CRA Taulbee Survey during this same time period also show significant gains in representation among women and underrepresented Students of Color.
Education presents a complex and confusing landscape. The traditional view of a CS education pipeline flowing from elementary through secondary, postsecondary, and graduate education is an oversimplification – one that may hinder our efforts to diversify computing. This simplification encourages a focus on educational efforts based on retention across stages and the traditional transitions between them, ignoring the fact that successful students may enter or re-enter CS education through a variety of nonstandard onramps.
For the past fifteen years, I have led the NSF-funded broadening participation alliance AccessComputing that has the goal of increasing the participation and success of people with disabilities in computing fields. This has given me and my team the ability to help create positive change and to observe what others have done to do the same. No doubt, there are still significant barriers for some students with disabilities to enter our field, and as technology changes new barriers often arise.
To identify and broadly engage the next generation of computer science researchers, the Computing Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institutions (CAHSI), an NSF INCLUDES Alliance, piloted a national virtual Research Experience for Undergraduates (vREU) during the summer of 2020. Funded by an NSF RAPID grant, the pilot provided undergraduate research experiences for 50 students and 20 faculty drawn from 20 colleges and universities widely distributed throughout the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico. The program used the Affinity Research Group (ARG) model to guide faculty mentors throughout the experience. ARG is a CAHSI signature practice with a focus on deliberate, structured faculty and student research skills development. At weekly meetings, Drs. Morreale, Villa, and Gates discussed and provided resources for specific skills that were appropriate at a specific point in time of a student’s research experience. Faculty mentors put skills development into immediate practice throughout their summer research program.
The 2020 ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing conference celebrated the technical contributions and career interests of diverse people in computing fields. The conference’s goal is to help all attendees — especially students —build vital connections that will serve them well both professionally and personally. The conference aims to provide an educational and supportive networking environment for underrepresented groups across the broad range of computing and information technology, from science to business to the arts to infrastructure. The Tapia 2020 conference theme, Inclusion Drives Innovation, highlighted the critical role that diverse perspectives play in driving innovations in computing and technology. Creating teams, organizations, and societies that are inclusive and respectful of differences leads to greater innovations that benefit the world.
Housed at Northeastern’s Khoury College of Computer Sciences, the Center for Inclusive Computing (“the Center”) serves as a catalyst in helping universities take the lead in educating more women in computing, both to meet a significant economic need and to address the issues of social inequity and exclusion. The Center awards funding to colleges and universities to scale best practices known to increase the representation of women in undergraduate computing. While these best practices are well documented and widely known, stagnant percentages indicate that uptake has been slow.
In order to accelerate change, the Center invites nonprofit colleges and universities to apply for one of two funding opportunities: Best Practice Grants and Data Grants.
The Scholarships for Women Studying Information Security (SWSIS) program provides scholarships of up to $10,000 for women earning their Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in fields related to information security. The scholarships support collegiate women working to join the growing security industry through academic funding and mentoring opportunities. Over the past eight years, SWSIS has supported more than 90 women for one to two years each and have funded more than $625,000 in scholarships, providing assistance at the formative stages of their careers.
On March 5-7, 2020, CRA-WP hosted the 2020 Grad Cohort for Underrepresented Minorities and Persons with Disabilities (URMD) Workshop in Austin, TX. Now in its third year, the workshop brought together approximately 200 graduate students from groups that are underrepresented in computing (including Alaska Native, Black/African American, Hispanic, Native American, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander, and/or Persons with Disabilities). Collectively, they represented a diverse set of computing-related research areas and more than 90 institutions. By developing meaningful connections with a focus on mentoring and community building, the workshop aims to increase representation from these groups in computing research. Graduate students also learn research skills and career strategies from experienced researchers and professionals.
The 2019 CMD-IT University Award for Retention of Minorities and Students with Disabilities in Computer Science was presented on September 19, 2019, at the 2019 ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference in San Diego, CA. The third annual award was presented to the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP).
The annual CMD-IT University Award recognizes US institutions that have demonstrated a commitment and shown results for increasing the computer science baccalaureate degree production of minorities and students with disabilities, through effective retention programs over the last five years. The award is focused on the following underrepresented groups: African-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, and people with disabilities. Introduced at the 2017 ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference, the two previous award winners are Georgia Institute of Technology (2017) and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (2018).
As CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA and a lifelong Girl Scout, and thanks to my successful business tech career, I am in a position to give back to an organization that gave me so much. It was at Girl Scouts that I first discovered my passion for space and astronomy, during a troop camping trip when I was a seven-year-old Brownie and my troop leader noticed my fascination with the night sky. She pointed out the constellations to me and, as I gazed wide-eyed into the New Mexico sky, explained how there were whole systems out there for the exploring.
Girl Scouts is also where I realized that I was not only interested in science and math—I was good at them. Through my badge experiences, like the one where I earned my Science badge by building and launching an Estes Rocket after much trial and error, I developed the persistence and resilience that I have relied upon my entire career as a rocket scientist, engineer, and tech executive.
Now it’s my personal mission to ensure that today’s girls have every opportunity to discover and cultivate their passions, to dream big, and to succeed and thrive in whatever path they choose—especially in STEM fields.
Although Girl Scouts has always offered valuable hands-on STEM experiences—among our first badges were pilot, carpentry, and electrician—in the past few years we have undergone a STEM revolution. In the last year alone, girls have earned nearly 1 million STEM badges in robotics, coding, computer programming, mechanical engineering, space science, environmental advocacy, and cybersecurity.