New UCI center promotes diversity in technology fields

01/08/04

School of Information and Computer Science launches center to focus on recruiting and retaining women, underrepresented populations in information technology

Irvine, Calif., Jan. 8, 2004 - UC Irvine has established a research center in its School of Information and Computer Science (ICS) to study diversity in the computing and information technology fields. Through research, outreach and educational programming, the Ada Byron Research Center (ABRC) will work to combat an increasing disparity of women and other underrepresented persons studying and working in the technology disciplines.

"The percentage of women and underrepresented populations -- Latinos, African Americans and Native Americans -- in computing and information technology has not grown proportionately with the industry," said Debra J. Richardson, ABRC director and the Ted and Janice Smith Interim Dean of ICS. "This translates into a loss of opportunity and economic advancement, a loss of talent in the workforce and a loss of creativity in shaping the future of information technology."

The center is named for Augusta Ada Byron, who is commonly regarded as the world's first computer programmer. Byron's program, written in the early-19th century, described how a calculating machine might compute Bernoulli's numbers which occur in many diverse areas of mathematics. In an 1843 article, Byron predicted that the calculating machine might be used one day to compose music, produce graphics, and be instrumental in both practical and scientific use. Byron's prescient comments anticipated by more than a century much of what we think of today as information technology - from scientific computing to computational arts.

ABRC will leverage activities at other UC campuses, including: Berkeley, Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as Irvine. Through such initiatives as new classes and academic majors, ABRC will study the underlying reasons for women's and underrepresented populations' lack of participation in computing and information technology, and address the critical issues impeding these groups from participating fully in the fields.

ABRC also is a key participant in the newly established National Center for Women and Information Technology, a national coalition of organizations that have joined forces to ensure that women are represented in the influential work of information technology.

"The School of Information and Computer Science, which has a long history of fostering comprehensive education in computing, is the ideal home for the center," said William Parker, UCI vice chancellor for research and graduate studies. "Under Dean Richardson's leadership, ABRC will formalize and leverage current diversity efforts and expand interdisciplinary research and curricular revisions to encourage a more diverse population studying, teaching and creating information technology applications."

As part of its mission, the center will support research fellows, a speaker series and workshops aimed at addressing the challenges and solutions to promoting diversity. Currently, women constitute nearly half of the U.S. workforce, yet hold less than 18 percent of the jobs in information technology. Further, only one out of every 1,000 students earning computer science degrees is a Native American student; 12 are Hispanic and 30 are African American.

"A center dedicated to attracting students who haven't been exposed to computer science is an exciting and very much needed endeavor," said Nikishna Myron, an ICS junior and president of the American Indian Student Association. "This center can help to excite Native American students and support their interests in computing."

Supported by an initial gift from Microsoft and UCI seed funding totaling $70,000 for three years, the center will create a network bridging academia and industry by addressing where and why women and other underrepresented students drop out of the technology pipeline.

"In a knowledge-based society, it is important that all members contribute to shaping the future of information technology," said Mark Hayes, manager of university relations at Microsoft Research. "Microsoft Corporation is committed to advancing the state of the art in research and scholarship, supporting innovation, enhancing the teaching and learning experience, and empowering students to realize their full potential with technology."

Sample of ABRC initiatives:

  • Laptops for Literacy: a project investigating the potential contribution of laptop computers to students' literacy development and academic achievement. The project will focus on schools that have a culturally and linguistically diverse population.
  • ABRC's Outreach Road Show: an endeavor that will demonstrate through interactive classroom presentations to junior high and high school students the extensive career options available to them, such as drug design, patent law and special effects in the media.
  • Bachelor of science degree program in informatics: a new offering in the ICS Department of Informatics that will promote experience-based computer science to facilitate access, retention and completion for underrepresented students.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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