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Advancing Underrepresented Minorities in Technology: The Richard Tapia Conference by Caroline Simard

Last week, I started a blog series about organizations and groups who are making a difference for underrepresented men and women in technology.

Last week, I started a blog series about organizations and groups who are making a difference for underrepresented men and women in technology. Our research shows that only 6.8% of technical employees in Silicon Valley are African-American, Hispanic, or Native American, and that these underrepresented employees are significantly more likely to plan to leave their companies. The CRA Taulbee Survey shows that a mere 1% of PhD recipients in Computer Science are Hispanic, 1% are African-American, and 0% are Native American (!). These statistics haven’t changed significantly since the early 1990s.

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Latinas in Computing, mentioned last week, is one group which seeks to bring the interests of underrepresented women to the forefront. Dr. Patty Lopez, Component Design Engineer at Intel, has been one of the major driver for LiC since its founding, and is a 2009 Grace Hopper Celebration Committee member – if you are coming to GHC, look for LiC sessions!

 

Other programs that need to be mentioned are the Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing and the EL Alliance (Look the EL Alliance in next week’s blog).

 

Modeled on the Grace Hopper Celebration, the Richard Tapia Celebration “provides a welcoming and supportive setting for all participants and particularly for students and faculty from under-represented groups. It is aimed at providing a supportive networking environment for under-represented groups across the broad range of computing and information technology, from science to business to the arts to infrastructure”.

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The Tapia Conference was named in honor of Dr. Richard A. Tapia, a mathematician and University Professor in the Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Tapia is the kind of role model that defies the odds – you can read his full bio online for a massive dose of inspiration: a first-generation American from Mexican parents, he was the first in his family to attend college, and earned a PhD in Mathematics from UCLA. He is an accomplished scientist who has published over 100 papers, and he was the first Hispanic to be elected to the National Academy of Engineering. The list of awards he received and his research accomplishments is astounding. In terms of making an impact on the next generation of underrepresented technologists and scientists, he walks the talk. During his tenure at Rice University, he advised more underrepresented minority and women doctoral students than anyone else is the country. Tapia is director of the Center for Excellence and Equity in Education at Rice, where he strives to change the academic practices that re-create inequality. In a 2003 paper on diversity in academia, Tapia and colleagues lament that increasing diversity is not truly rewarded by the current academic reward system, which rewards research over teaching and mentoring activities. Yet, faculty engagement in teaching and mentoring is critical to increasing the recruitment, retention and advancement of underrepresented minorities. In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Tapia also argues that the top-tier universities need to actively engage in becoming a part of the solution

 

In order to foster such mentoring opportunities, the Tapia Conference was formed to celebrate the technical contributions and career interests of diverse people in computing fields. The Conference is a project of the Coalition to Diversity Computing and is sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Computing Research Association (CRA), and the IEEE Computing Society (IEEE-CS). The CDC is a joint organization of the ACM, CRA, and IEEE-CS. The National Science Foundation is an active supporter of the conference. The conference has grown steadily in participation over the years to over 400 participants. Students, faculty, and industry participants get the opportunity to discuss technical topics while breaking down feelings of isolation, creating new professional networks, and access mentoring and professional development opportunities. I attended Tapia for the first time this year- seeing 400 participants, men and women, from diverse backgrounds, provided me with hope that it is indeed possible to increase diversity in technology. You can read Telle Whitney’s blog about our participation here.

 

 

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