UCM, CSU Stanislaus, and Merced College Unite to Train Future Tech Researchers

Ivy Nguyen, a computer science and engineering major, pilots a drone as part of CITRIS' women in tech initiative

Thirty-four students from San Joaquin Valley colleges are getting an opportunity to learn how to access and build careers in technology and research at a unique workshop designed to help diversify science-related fields.

Students from UC Merced, Merced College and California State University, Stanislaus, will attend the three-day Valle de Exploracion: Find Your Path to a Tech Career workshop held Feb. 7-9 at UC Merced.

The workshop is funded by a Google Explore Computer Science Research grant and funding from the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS).

The public is invited to attend the opening address by Julie Baker, who went from teaching music to building Ursa Space Systemsa satellite and Earth-imagery tech company.

Baker is an advocate for diversity in hiring, with women making up half of Ursa’s leadership team.

“When we started hiring, we were very careful and cognizant of the fact that when people are interviewing, they tend to really gravitate to those who are most like themselves,” she said in an interview on Forbes.com.

The lecture takes place at noon Feb. 7 in Classroom and Office Building 2, Room 140. For more information, visit citris.ucmerced.edu.

Karishma Singh, a UC Merced computer science and engineering graduate and CITRIS intern, teaches middle school students how to use coding to drive robots.

Karishma Singh, a UC Merced computer science and engineering graduate and CITRIS intern, teaches middle school students how to use coding to drive robots.

Students in the workshop come from the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, and will be trained in computer science, data and application development. Their mentors will include Saeideh Bakhshi, a quantitative UX researcher at Google, and ag-food-tech leaders Seana Day and Adrienne Gifford. 

The workshop’s goal is for students to find, apply to and obtain research opportunities at universities or tech jobs at companies. The workshop is especially important for women or ethnic minorities who rarely see people like themselves in such roles. 

Diversity in tech has vast implications for the quality of projects and their worth. For example, assigning female voices and names to digital assistants like Siri and Alexa promotes the stereotype that secretaries are women. Having a diverse field of programmers mitigates such biases.

The event is the brainchild of UC Merced engineering Professor Erin Hestir and Merced College computer science Professor Kathy Kanemoto. Through this grant and others, the two schools are aiming to build stronger connections between their programs and students.

“I look forward to a future where the faces in professional meetings and technical projects reflect the faces of California, representing women like me and the members of my community,” Hestir said.

This article originally appeared in the UC Merced Newsroom, January 27, 2020, and is re-posted with permission in the UC IT Blog.

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