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    EDUCATION, OUTREACH, AND TRAINING | Contents | Next

    Broadening Ethnic Horizons in the Computing Industry

    PARTICIPANTS
    Sandra Johnson Baylor, IBM T.J.Watson Research Center
    Jesse Bemley, Joint Educational Facilities
    Barbara Richmond, NPACI/SDSC

    L ess than one percent of the researchers in computer and computational science are African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Native Alaskans, and Native Pacific Islanders. As part of an ongoing effort to encourage minorities to pursue careers in these fields, 23 success stories of underrepresented students and professionals in the computing field will be featured in a new brochure, Faces of Computing, to be published by the Coalition to Diversify Computing (CDC), an EOT-PACI partner.

    SOURCES OF INSPIRATION

    FACES AND PROFILES

    LONG-TERM IMPACT

    SOURCES OF INSPIRATION

    "We're targeting minorities, especially high school students, to encourage them to seek higher education--college, graduate school, and post doctoral research--in computer science and engineering," said Sandra Johnson Baylor, IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, one of the CDC co-chairs (along with Andrew Bernat of the University of Texas, El Paso). The CDC receives support from NPACI and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) through the Education, Outreach, and Training (EOT) thrust area. It is also supported by the Computing Research Association (CRA), the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers Computer Society (IEEE-CS).

    The CDC is particularly trying to reach minority students in their junior and senior years of high school, to encourage more students to choose careers in computing. The profiles in the brochure are a cross-section of success stories that includes students, people in the computing industry, and academia. "The goal is for those kids to be able to see people who look like them--people who are doing science or engineering work--so they will say to themselves, 'I could do that, too,' " said Jesse Bemley, director of Joint Educational Facilities in Washington, D.C., a program that exposes high school students to various disciplines related to information technology, and the CDC committee member in charge of the brochure.

    The CDC's support from NPACI has included coordination of the brochure, according to Barbara Richmond, editor of the brochure. "NPACI's mission includes a strong outreach component, and we expect that this brochure, both in the printed and Web versions, will have a significant impact," she said. "We are earnestly trying to turn minority young people on to the computer sciences," she added. "Some of the people profiled in the brochure are sophomores in college--high school students can relate to peers at this level."

    The CDC brochure is a complementary publication to the Women in Computer Science brochure previously printed by the Computing Research Association Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W). CDC and CRA-W are sister organizations, both supported by EOT-PACI. Women in Computer Science was highly successful, and like Faces of Computing, features successful role models at all stages of their careers.

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    REQUESTS

    To receive a copy of Faces of Computing, please send e-mail to Gretchen Rauen at SDSC, gretchen@sdsc.edu.


    Paul Kabotie
    Shirpaul McLaughlin
    Paul Kabotie
    President of Colorado-based Kabotie Software Technologies and board member and vice chair of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society.
    Shirpaul McLaughlin
    IBM Systems Development Engineer and the first minority female to graduate magna cum laude from the School of Electrical Engineering at Case Western Reserve University.

    FACES AND PROFILES

    Faces of Computing features profiles such as that of Paul Kabotie, president of Colorado-based Kabotie Software Technologies. Kabotie, a member of the Hopi tribe, was born on the Santa Clara pueblo in New Mexico. He is a member of the board of directors and vice chair of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, a chapter of which he helped found at the University of New Mexico when he was an undergraduate student at New Mexico's College of Engineering. Kabotie is also an entrepreneur helping Native American communities. "We don't need social 'programs,' little infusions of money that leave nothing behind," he said. "Those of us who left and benefited from an education must now come back and build the knowledge and education base, returning as helpers, not exploiters. I am hoping we can all have a kind of snowball effect."

    IBM Systems Development Engineer Shirpaul McLaughlin also appears in Faces of Computing. McLaughlin, an African American, was the first minority female to graduate magna cum laude from the School of Electrical Engineering at Case Western Reserve University, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in 1992. She later earned a master's degree in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1995. In addition, she teaches at Durham Technical Community College and Cuyahoga Community College, both in Ohio. But McLaughlin's path wasn't a smooth one. Her first two years in college were difficult and disappointing--so much so, that at one point she thought she might "just go off to beauty school." When she transferred to Case Western Reserve, however, everything changed. "The big difference is the environment that you're in," she said. "I was the same person with the same amount of intelligence; but in one setting I was barely maintaining a C average--and in the next one I was at the top of my class!"

    Faces of Computing includes not only working professionals, but also college students like Paula Nelson, who is an undergraduate in the Computer Science Department at George Mason University. In her younger years, Nelson feared having to interact with or sit in front of a computer. She never considered a career in computer science or electrical engineering until her junior year in high school, when she joined the Joint Educational Facilities program in Washington, D.C. There Nelson discovered the potential of computers, and became so enthusiastic about programming that she wrote an application using genetic algorithms. Through JEF, she wrote papers and gave several presentations throughout the nation about her application. Nelson hopes to graduate in 2002, after which she is considering attending graduate school. "Computer science is a field in which I can continually grow," she said.

    As the eldest son of a businessman in the Dominican Republic and the nephew of a civil engineer, Ramón E. Vasquez-Espinosa comes from a family who fostered his interest in math and science. "My mother, who was an instructor of mathematics, has been the biggest influence and inspiration in my life," he said. He excelled in math and science in high school, but it wasn't until he enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus (UPRM) that he decided to become involved in electrical engineering. After earning his bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering from UPR, he received his doctoral degree from Louisiana State University. Today, Vasquez-Espinosa is a professor of electrical engineering at his alma mater, UPRM, where he has also served as associate dean for the engineering faculty, as well as directing two organizations there: the Laboratory of Remote Sensing and Image Processing, and the Center for Computing Research and Development. He is also a consultant for NASA and other private and government agencies, has published more than 80 research publications, and is a husband and father. "My mother taught me to never be afraid," he said. "You can do whatever you dream, if your heart is in it."

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    Shirpaul McLaughlin
    Ramón E. Vasquez-Espinosa
    Paula Nelson
    An undergraduate in the Computer Science Department at George Mason University.
    Ramón E. Vasquez-Espinosa
    Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, and director of the Laboratory of Remote Sensing and Image Processing and the Center for Computing Research and Development.

    LONG-TERM IMPACT

    One of the greatest challenges for minority students to overcome is a common one for many students: mathematics. Thorough knowledge of this subject, of course, is essential for a career in computing. According to Bemley, this problem arises regardless of whether a student receives his or her education at a public or private school. The trouble does not arise from calculating an answer to a math problem, but rather in naming its various components. "We take kids around the country," Bemley said. "I find that what's happening on the mathematics side of the house is that young people don't know the names of the concepts they know about."

    For example, when teaching arithmetic, everyone knows what subtraction is. But many students don't know terminology such as "difference." So, when they see this word, they may be confused, despite knowing how to actually do subtraction problems. "They don't know what they know," Bemley said. "In most cases, it's a matter of semantics."

    Other projects planned by the CDC include a traveling lecture series at various campuses across the country, to encourage underrepresented minorities to attend graduate school in the computing disciplines. With its multifaceted approach, the CDC hopes to make a long-term impact all along the science and engineering pipeline from K-12 to graduate degrees. "We came up with projects that would get a lot of leverage," Johnson Baylor said, "in addressing what we perceive as a problem of minorities choosing careers in computing."

    According to Johnson Baylor, "The issue of attracting and retaining minorities in scientific careers is critical to this nation. There is a very strong interest nationwide in seeing successful programs, such as those sponsored by the CDC, scaled to a larger audience. Faces of Computing will reach thousands of students, but projects such as this need to be combined with other outreach programs. Of particular importance are mentoring and research opportunities, which are also supported by the CDC and other equally determined organizations."
    --AV*

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