By Trisha Kholiya, Qualcomm Institute student writer
Computer Science and Engineering’s (CSE) Assistant Professor Arun Kumar and Director of Student Affairs Patrick Mallon recently joined ten UC San Diego oSTEM Chapter members to spearhead the first CSE presence at the oSTEM National Conference 2018 in Houston, Texas. The conference was well-attended, with major STEM companies, government agencies and other universities on site.
Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, or “oSTEM,” is a nonprofit professional society that strives to help the LGBTQ+ community in STEM succeed personally, academically and professionally. It is the first inclusive organization dedicated to serving STEM students, and was later expanded to support professionals identifying as LGBTQ+.
At the event, Arun and Patrick hosted a booth highlighting CSE and other STEM-based graduate programs, such as mathematics and physics. The majority of visitors were interested in pursuing a graduate degree in computer science and other related fields. As computing becomes universal, data science is becoming a new draw for students regardless of their major. Arun heavily emphasized CSE’s and UC San Diego’s efforts to promote diversity.
“Overall, I must say it was pretty gratifying to see the surprised/impressed/happy reactions from the students that came to our booth when I shared about CSE's and UC San Diego’s strong diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, including our prolific LGBT Resource Center, Rainbow Graduation, CSE's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) webpage, our various diversity-focused scholarships and the fantastic student groups,” Arun said.
Arun is a member of the recruiting subcommittee for CSE's DEI Committee, which is comprised of many CSE faculty, staff, and students. Their main goal is to enhance efforts to attract and retain students from groups that are historically underrepresented in computing. For Patrick, having a booth at this event was an important symbol of their DEI efforts.
“We seek to enhance our visibility among underrepresented groups, so that others can see what a vibrant, welcoming, and inclusive community we have here,” Patrick said.
Secretary of UC San Diego’s oSTEM Chapter and CSE BS/MS student Sothyrak (Tee) Srey has attended this conference two years in a row. He received the CNS Alan Turing Memorial Fellowship last year for his outstanding contributions to diversity. For him, this conference was a way to reconnect with friends from last year’s oSTEM conference and discuss the progress of their respective chapters.
The conference itself opened with a keynote talk from the former Mayor of Houston, the first LGBTQ+ mayor of a top 10 city in the United States. It also featured an interesting array of topics, including the effects of AI on the LGBTQ+ community, how machine learning models transfer discriminatory data into their predictions; being queer and South Asian in the U.S.; and dealing with family ostracism during the holidays.
Tee attended the oSTEM conference with his fingernails painted, marking the first time he felt comfortable doing so at a career fair. “I think it is nice to see that all the students were able to meet others of the same field of study while being their true authentic self,” Tee said. “In contrast to most conferences, where everyone is expected to be wearing professional attire, the oSTEM conference celebrates and embraces the identity of all students as everyone was wearing what they see fits their identity in a professional context.”
UC San Diego undergraduate Michelle Holland won the undergraduate poster competition. Her research was in antibiotic resistance.
“This research is important to me because antibiotic resistance is an ongoing issue in hospitals globally and will get worse without significant policy change,” Michelle said. “The work I do is about finding new ways of using the antibiotics we have to combat the evolution of antibiotic resistance.”
For Michelle, the conference was a safe space to communicate openly with other people who share similar, intersectional identities.
“I often feel a sense of imposter syndrome in both STEM and the LGBTQ+ community,” Michelle said. “Attending the oSTEM conference reaffirmed that I do belong.”
Next year, Arun hopes there is a larger, university-wide effort to give students more resources for graduate programs in STEM that are not CSE related. He also hopes to encourage other faculty and staff, including allies, to go to the event.
For Tee, the most important part of the conference was the resources that it provided for him and the other members of oSTEM@UCSD.
“I could provide the members of oSTEM@UCSD with internship or full-time employment opportunities from companies that celebrate our identity as a queer person, and they will ensure a safe and equal work space for everyone regardless of one's identity,” Tee said.
For more resources on LGBTQ+ scholarships for students:
CSE DEI webpage: https://cse.ucsd.edu/diversity_equity_inclusion
Rainbow Graduation: https://lgbt.ucsd.edu/events/rainbow-graduation.html
CNS Alan Turing Memorial Scholarship: http://cns.ucsd.edu/cns-students-portal/center-for-networked-systems-alan-turing-memorial-scholarship/
Other UC San Diego scholarships for LGBTQ+ students: https://lgbt.ucsd.edu/resources/scholarships.html