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.
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.
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.
The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) appears to be on track to break attendance records every year. The 2019 conference, held in Orlando Florida, saw an increase to more than 25,000 participants, up from around 20,000 in 2018. As GHC grows, so does the reach of CRA-WP’s programs at GHC for attendees interested in research and research careers. For undergraduate students exploring research for the first time, graduate students embarking on the path to a research career, academic and research professionals furthering their careers, and industry professionals considering a career change, CRA-WP’s programs make a real impact on many GHC participants.
The 2019 ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference, presented by CMD-IT, took place at the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina on September 18-21. This year’s theme, “Diversity: Building a Stronger Future” reminded the participants of the critical role of diversity in computing innovation and the creation of the future of all aspects of STEM. Engaging a diverse workforce will result in solutions that benefit everyone and create a stronger, brighter future.
It is with great excitement that we share with our friends, colleagues, and broader computing community that CRA Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W) is now officially CRA Committee on Widening Participation in Computing Research (CRA-WP). CRA-W was established in 1991 with the mission of increasing the success and participation of women in Computing Research. Since that time, we have organized numerous programs at various levels to engage, encourage, and sustain women in computing. In 2004, CRA-W first partnered with the Coalition to Diversify Computing (CDC) to engage and increase the participation of individuals from additional underrepresented groups in computing. In 2008, this partnership became a BPC Alliance, further expanding and strengthening our outreach and programmatic efforts. Over the past decade, our programs have quite naturally shifted from being initially women-only or women-focused, to being increasingly co-ed, with a mission of serving a wide range of constituencies. This natural progression towards broadening our scope to address all forms of underrepresentation in computing continues to motivate and drive our extremely dedicated board of volunteers.