Google award to introduce women to computer science research

Mihalcea and Wendlandt believe a key strategy to increasing the number of women in computing research is to introduce them to the research process early on.

Prof. Rada Mihalcea and PhD student Laura Wendlandt have been awarded a Google grant to develop a workshop that will give undergraduate women in computer science valuable hands-on research experience. The project, “Building a Diverse Research Community: Introducing Women to Computer Science Research,” earned the maximum award of $35,000 from Google’s exploreCSR: Google Grant Pilot Program for Undergraduate Computer Science Research Focused Workshops for Women.

A recent NSF report shows that less than 20% of undergraduates enrolled in computer science programs are women, and that imbalance continues through graduate school. In particular, a very small number of women choose to pursue a research career in computer science – as few as 17.5%.

Mihalcea and Wendlandt believe a key strategy to increasing the number of women in computing research is to introduce them to the research process early on.

The workshop they’ve proposed, spread over an entire semester, would engage around 70 undergraduate women in computing research through a series of hands-on activities and mentorship from research faculty. This way, the students will connect with role models in the field and have the chance to evaluate the potential benefits of a research career.

Throughout the semester, each student would have 35 hours of research with their mentor on a task they work together to define. Each mentor will work with only two students in the program, allowing for easy access and attention to their questions and challenges. Additionally, the program will include workshop sessions, research seminars, and panels with women in research careers.

The organizers hope that the program will encourage many more undergraduate women to consider pursuing a research degree in computer science.

“Through the panel session and mentoring relationships established in the program, we will equip students with the knowledge and skills they need to successfully apply to a doctoral program, as well as the confidence that they can succeed in a research environment,” Mihalcea and Wendlandt say in their proposal.

The workshop will be run through Girls Encoded, a program at CSE focused on recruiting women and underrepresented minorities to the field. Mihalcea and Wendlandt are co-directors of the program, and have helped organize Women in Computing seminars, industry panels featuring female software engineers, and high-school outreach programs. This fall the pair will be co-instructing a new course through the program, Discover Computer Science, particularly designed for incoming first-year women with no background in the field. Wendlandt also co-organized the first year of CS Kickstart, an annual summer camp introducing first-year women to computer science.

Google’s exploreCSR program is intended to provide one-time grants to support the design, development, and execution of regional research-focused workshops during the 2018-2019 academic year. Workshops must provide opportunities for undergraduate women in computer science (and related fields) to learn more about graduate study and research careers in computer science.

Diversity and Outreach; Graduate students; Honors and Awards; Rada Mihalcea; Women in Computing