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Expanding the Pipeline: The Second Annual CRA Grad Cohort for URMD Supports a Diverse Computing Research Community


By Shar Steed, CRA Communications Specialist

On March 22-23, CRA hosted the second annual Graduate Cohort for Underrepresented Minorities and Persons with Disabilities (URMD Grad Cohort) in picturesque Waikoloa Village, Hawaii. The location provided beautiful scenery as students spent two days learning how to succeed in graduate school and networked with a diverse group of peers and senior researchers.

The CRA URMD Grad Cohort Workshop aims to increase the ranks of senior underrepresented minorities and persons with disabilities in computing research by building and mentoring nationwide communities through their graduate studies.

URMD speaker and participant

More than 150 graduate students in computer science from 78 institutions in the U.S. and Canada attended the event, which is nearly double the number of attendees in 2018. Much of this growth is due to increased interest and engagement from sponsors. The 2019 CRA URMD Graduate Cohort Workshop was made possible through generous contributions by the Computing Research Association, the National Science Foundation, Facebook, Google, Microsoft Research, the U.S. Department of Energy, AccessComputing, and Intel.

The workshop featured a mix of formal presentations and informal discussions and social events. In the first plenary session, “Finding Your Way: Overcoming Cultural Barriers,” panelists Monica Anderson, Raheem Beyah, and Raja Kushalnagar discussed their personal journeys and how they made decisions throughout their careers. Anderson encouraged the audience not to shy away from opportunities and noted, “Experiences add to your foundation and make your perspective unique.” Beyah stressed the value of mentors, and Kushalnagar emphasized the importance of developing a support system.

Speakers and participants shared their stories in an engaging plenary session called “Strategies for Human-Human Interaction.” In this session, which was hosted by panelists Dorian Arnold, Karina Edmonds, Richard Ladner, and Melanie Moses, participants learned from the panel’s collective insights, listened to other participant’s experiences, and shared relationship management strategies.

Fifty-seven attendees submitted abstracts for the poster session held on Friday afternoon, which provided the graduate students with the opportunity to present their research and receive feedback from other participants, speakers, and sponsor representatives.

Poster session

The Friday evening reception, which was sponsored by Google, featured a luau, and the founding co-chairs of the workshop were presented with a gift for their incredible efforts in developing the Grad Cohort for URMD Workshop.

Photo caption: From left to right: Kunle Olukotun, Ayanna Howard, and Lori Clarke, receive Hawaiian wooden paddles from CRA Director of Programs Erik Russell at the event. Mary Lou Soffa (not pictured) is also a founding co-chair of Grad Cohort URMD.

CRA hosts the URMD Grad Cohort Workshop as part of its mission to facilitate the development of strong, diverse talent in the computing field. CRA believes computing research needs diverse perspectives in order to foster innovation. The program has seen some early results of its effectiveness. CRA’s Center for Evaluating the Research Pipeline (CERP) evaluated the inaugural 2018 URMD Grad Cohort Workshop and found that compared to before the workshop, participants reported stronger professional skills after attending Grad Cohort URMD. These results were reported in the September 2018 CERP Infographic in Computing Research News.

From left to right: Kunle Olukotun, Ayanna Howard, and Lori Clarke, receive Hawaiian wooden paddles from CRA Director of Programs Erik Russell at the event. Mary Lou Soffa (not pictured) is also a founding co-chair of Grad Cohort URMD.

This program is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number (1246649). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.