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[Published originally in the November 2004 edition of Computing Research News, Vol. 16/No. 5]
Expanding the Pipeline
Coalition to Diversify Computing (CDC)
By Patricia J. Teller
The Coalition to Diversify Computing (CDC), founded in 1996, is an organization whose primary goal is the enhancement and diversification of the available pool of highly trained scientists and engineers in computer-related fields. It is a joint organization of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), Computing Research Association (CRA), and IEEE-Computer Society. The CDC membership includes representatives from academia, industry, and federal labs that are involved in a variety of computer-related disciplines. Each member is engaged in a project aimed at realizing CDC’s goal.
Given the importance of diversity in the workplace, the need for growth of the technical workforce, and national demographic trends, CDC partnerships and projects target an increase in the number of students from underrepresented ethnic groups transitioning into computing-related careers. To reach this objective, it is imperative that students perform well in their undergraduate studies and are strongly encouraged to continue their education into graduate school. Similarly, it is essential that graduate students successfully attain M.S. and Ph.D. degrees and take on leadership positions within both societal and technical communities.
Some strategies employed by CDC projects that have been effective in achieving these objectives are: 1) accessibility to role models, 2) enhancement of student confidence, 3) availability of financial and emotional support, and 4) awareness of education and career possibilities. For example, with respect to role models, according to CRA’s Taulbee Survey 2002-03, only two percent of the doctorates in computer science and computer engineering went to Hispanics and only one percent went to African-Americans; none were awarded to Native Americans. These statistics translate to very few faculty members from underrepresented ethnic groups being visible to students.
Two CDC projects that specifically address the accessibility of role models from underrepresented ethnic groups are the Distinguished Lecturer Series and the Traveling Academic Forum. The former organizes and supports visits of minority researchers from academia and industry to majority- and minority-serving institutions to give lectures on the opportunities, technologies, and relationships needed to be successful in computer-related disciplines. The latter project organizes and presents workshops that provide information (e.g., hiring, promotion, and tenure processes) that permits better understanding and navigation of the academic ladder. The workshops offer encouragement to undergraduate students to pursue graduate studies and early exposure to academic careers. The long-term goal of the Traveling Academic Forum is to create a community of faculty to provide support and guidance for each other. Creating community, whether among undergraduate students, graduate students, or faculty, provides a great impetus for success. For example, consider the fact that many faculty members who have succeeded in their pursuit of tenure and senior faculty status have done so only through information exchanges that led to greater awareness, communication, and interactions. Similarly, many successful graduate students have achieved their goals through directed interactions with peers and faculty.
Another CDC project, Sending Students/Mentors to Technical Conferences, encourages undergraduate and graduate students to gain expertise in areas of computing, while providing them with opportunities to network with researchers in these fields. To this end, it provides financial support to students from underrepresented ethnic groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, with a particular focus on the area of computing, to attend and participate in leading technical conferences. It is always easier to attend a conference with someone else; thus, a student is not eligible for support unless a faculty member commits to serving as the student’s mentor at the conference. Additionally, students are encouraged to apply in pairs or triplets. Student and faculty mentor pairs who would otherwise be unable to attend such conferences (i.e., who lack individual and institutional means for attending the conferences) are the primary targets of this project.
In supporting the students, the project endeavors to provide access to role models, enhance their confidence, and increase their awareness of educational and career possibilities. Through the faculty mentors, whether supported directly or indirectly (through support of their students), the project seeks to increase the number of faculty who work towards CDC’s goals. The project has had some notable successes. For example, after attending the 2003 SIAM Conference on Computational Science and Engineering with his student Omar Santiago, Damian Rouson, Assistant Professor at the City University of New York, let us know that “… Omar decided to join my research group and pursue his Ph.D. He applied, was accepted, and is now a Ph.D. student!” Heather Ann Wake, University of South Carolina, supported by the project to present a paper at FCCM ’03, said of her experience “… I must have done fine because people came up to me afterward to talk about my project and ask for my personal opinions. Overall, this conference was an irreplaceable experience that will help me in the future.” Heather received an NSF graduate fellowship, and was the female runner-up in CRA’s 2004 Outstanding Undergraduate Award competition.
Other current CDC projects include:
Bringing together the objectives of all of CDC’s projects is the biennial Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference, which is organized by CDC. This conference, which began in 2001, celebrates the technical contributions and career interests of diverse people in computing fields. The next conference is scheduled for October 19-22, 2005 at the Hyatt Regency in Albuquerque, NM.
If you would like to help CDC attain its goals, 1) be a mentor—you don’t need to be a member of an underrepresented ethnic group or an academician to do this, 2) build community among undergraduate and graduate students of underrepresented ethnic groups, 3) provide these students access to role models, even on a limited basis, or 4) submit a CDC project for consideration. Get involved! For more information about CDC, its projects, and the Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference, go to http://www.cdc-computing.org.
Patricia J. Teller, Chair of the Coalition to Diversify Computing, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at The University of Texas at El Paso.
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