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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Activity Report Cornell, Computer Science, September 2022
The Department of Computer Science Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee: Haym Hirsh (chair), Alexandra Silva, Becky Stewart, Bobby Kleinberg, David Bindel, Eva Tardos, Hakim Weatherspoon, Robbert van Renesse, Stephanie Meik, Tammy Gardner, Tom Ristenpart.
The DEI committee met regularly during the semester. Here we document the activities and actions taken during the past two years, and our plans for the next academic year.
The dean’s office has established the new Cornell Ann S, Bowers College of Computing and Information Science Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with associate dean David Bindel, director Dr. LeeAnn Roberts, Cass D’Amato assistant director, as well as a number of students working on them with projects. The Department’s DEI committee has been actively collaborating with the office. Dr. LeeAnn Roberts attended a couple of the committee meetings to inform us about her office’s activities, and discuss how to best collaborate. One general role that Dr. Roberts has been taking on is to help to connect people to central reporting resources for bias and discrimination reporting.
The CS department and Cornell Bowers CIS is funding a large cohort of students attending the ACM Richard Tapia and the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conferences each year. This year, a total of 37 undergraduate and graduate students are going to the Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference in Washington, DC. Additionally, 48 undergraduate and graduate students will attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Orlando, FL in partnership with Women in Computing at Cornell (WICC).
CS staff and faculty also attend both events. In 2021, TAPIA was a virtual conference. The lower costs gave us the opportunity to expand our presence, although participation was a lower-quality experience. Last year we had four faculty members (Haym Hirsh, Eva Tardos, David Bindel, Emma Pierson, and Robbert van Renesse), the Assistant Director of the MEng program Stephanie Meik, graduate assistant Jess Beebe, and 33 students registered for the conference. In 2022, we have faculty David Bindel, Robbert van Renesse, and Hakim Weatherspoon attending, as well as Stephanie Meik and Renee Milligan, and CIS is registering 33 undergraduate students, and all 4 PhD/MS students who expressed interest in participating.
The Grace Hopper conference was also online last year and is hybrid this year. Last year we were represented by Eva Tardos, David Bindel, Haym Hirsh, and Robbert van Renesse, 41 undergraduates sponsored in collaboration with CIS/IS, and by Becky Stewart, and Stephanie Meik. This year, we have faculty Rachit Agarwal, and Anne Bracy attending, as well as Stephanie Meik, Rebecca Stewart, and Renee Milligan, and CIS is registering 32 undergraduates for in person participation, plus 4 online. In addition, WICC is sponsoring 5 additional undergraduates for in person attendance. CS is sponsoring additional 2 PhD/MS students who expressed interest in participating.
Activities supporting Undergraduate students
To support students as they become interested in joining the CS major, and throughout their career in the department, we have a number of programs that support our efforts to increase diversity, equity, and inclusivity.
In the summer of 2020 we started the CSMore program, a program for rising sophomores from underrepresented or disadvantaged backgrounds who are interested in becoming computer science majors. Through the close analysis of data, we have seen clear evidence that the Sophomore year of the Computer Science curriculum is crucial, filled as it is with a number of challenging classes. These classes inadvertently often become gatekeepers to joining the major. To directly address this unfortunate outcome, the CSMore program was created to help level the playing field and aid the formation of a social and academic network among this group of students who meet in the summer cohort. When the students begin Sophomore year—after participating in CSMore—they not only have an expanded repertoire of CS skills to help them succeed in these difficult classes, but also a group of friends, many from similar backgrounds, whom they can draw on for peer support.
The CSMore program is now in its 3rd year, and is now coordinated by the CIS Diversity office. This year for the first time, we had over 70 applications for the 30 spots in the program. So far. 12 different faculty have been part of the program with most faculty doing two summers. The CIS DEI office also added a CSMore Works component for mentoring and supporting students who complete the program through the next year.
Pre-Collegiate Summer Scholars Program
There are an increasingly large number of prospective computer science majors in Cornell's Pre-Collegiate Summer Scholars Program (PSSP) both in the Engineering college (COE) as well as the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) in part due to support from the CIS DEI office. A number of the PSSP students take the introduction to computing course (CS 1110) during their pre-freshman summer. For the last two summers the Computer Science department offered a dedicated TA to support the PSSP students who take the course in the summer, thereby lending even more informed support to the students as they navigate new terrain socially and intellectually.
The two last summers we also organized an ice-cream social to facilitate the meeting of CS interested PSSP students with the CSMore participants.
Academic Excellence Workshops (AEW)
AEWs are designed to be informal, supportive learning environments, in which students get to know their peers, work on practice problems, and feel comfortable to ask questions and discuss their understanding of the course material. The typical structure of an AEW workshop includes: fun icebreakers and grouping techniques; full-group time, in which facilitators check for understanding and engage students through interactive recall activities to refresh current course topics; small-group problem-solving using worksheets created by the facilitators. The bulk of the workshop time is dedicated to small-group work.
Historically such AEW have been only offered for the freshmen CS courses: 1110, 1112, and 2110. The offering of Academic Excellence Workshops have been extended to also offer support of the key sophomore Computer Science courses: 2800, 3110, 3410. The 3110 and 3410 sections use existing course materials, while for 2800 during the summer of 2021 Matt Eichhorn (CAM graduate student) with the help of Anke van Zuylen and Eva Tardos developed materials that help support the course. The CS courses with matching AEWs collaborate closely with the coordinator to make sure the materials are up to date and students get the best outcome. Each course has a coordinating TA (from CS course staff) attending the coordination meetings and helping with sections. The CSMore Works participants are encouraged to take these workshops as a group, and work on the courses together.
There are two very active student groups devoted to diversity: Underrepresented Minorities in Computing (URMC) and Women in Computing (WICC).
The URMC leadership is doing an excellent job supporting their membership, with over 150 active members, 26 in the e-board, they are currently co-advised by Eva and LeeAnn Roberts, and once back from sabbatical Hakim Wheterspoon will join the advisory committee.
WICC leadership is also doing an excellent job supporting their membership, with over 215 active members and 36 in the e-board. WICC organizes regular events, including a “Lunch Bunch” networking event with CIS faculty for a group of freshmen interested in computing. They also reach out and organize events that aim to support the broader computing community, including a partner finding social (financed by the department) at the start of each semester to help students identify possible project partners in their CS courses.
The URMC and WICC leadership has monthly meetings with their advisors.
The CS department developed a TA training that is required for each TA or consultant in any Computer Science course. The training includes discussion of implicit bias in addition to topics like office hours, grading practices, helping students in distress, as well as setting boundaries. All Computer Science faculty participate in offering this training.
We are increasingly aware of the role that computing plays in perpetuating and amplifying societal inequity. We recommend that such information be thoughtfully integrated across the entire CS curriculum, such as we see taking place in existing courses like “Foundations of AI” (CS 4700), where these topics are brought to light over the course of the semester, as well as integrated into new courses, such as “Ethics and Computing”. The course focusing on such topics, CS 1340 (entitled: Choices and Consequences in Computing) was offered in the spring 2022 for the second time by Jon Kleinberg and Karen Levy . The course has an enrollment of over 700 students.
Activities supporting MEng student
The vast majority of students in the CS MEng program fall into two largely distinct populations: (1) students who were Cornell CS undergraduates, most typically enrolled through the “early admit” program that allows students to add the MEng to the conclusion of their undergraduate studies; and (2) students who are new to Cornell, most typically arriving from other countries. Many of the initiatives discussed in the undergraduate section of this document also pertain to the segment of the MEng community that were Cornell undergraduates. MEng TAs are also required to attend the TA training mentioned above.
In the academic year 2021-22 CS, began offering MEng diversity fellowships to grow the diversity of our students and applicant pool. In the academic year 2022-23 we will have our first cohort of 3 M.Eng. diversity scholarship recipients (1 deferred from AY 2021-22).
Activities supporting MS/PhD students
Beginning in 2018, there has been a concerted effort in the field of Computer Science to improve PhD student recruitment and admissions to improve the diversity of the applicant pool, in turn, of the student body, and ultimately, the profession. This initiative owes its initial successes to the creativity and effort of a number of Cornell students, faculty, and staff. A summary of the measures taken to diversify Cornell CS PhD admissions was written by David Bindel after he chaired the CS Graduate Admissions Committee in 2018.
We are continuing to reform the graduate admissions process to further improve outcomes with respect to diversity. In 2020, we formalized the role of “faculty advocates,” that is, professors who “advocate” for admitting a student and indicate a willingness to try working with them. With this approach, our intent is to improve the process whereby admitted students find advisors upon matriculating at Cornell (see further discussion of faculty advocates below under the “advising and mentoring” subtopic). During the PhD admission process, we assigned a designated faculty member to be in charge of considering applicants who would diversify our class, such as Black, Latinx students. Between the increased effort to recruit applicants, and the special attention to watch over these applications, the result is promising, over 17% of the admitted students in the 2022 academic year were from underrepresented backgrounds (as opposed to 8-10% in the best of the previous years). We have also created a diversity fellowship with the support of the Hopper-Dean foundation (awarded 4 in 2022). In 2022, we admitted 35 students to the PhD program, of which 7 were women, and 6 diversity students.
In 2021, at the recommendation of the Graduate School’s Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement, we will add a new, required prompt to the CS graduate application:
Please describe how your personal background and experiences influenced your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Additionally, provide insight on your potential to contribute to a community of inclusion, belonging, and respect where scholars representing diverse backgrounds, perspectives, abilities, and experiences can learn and innovate productively and positively together.
Finally, while all of the aforementioned reforms pertain to the PhD admission process, we also working to improve diversity in the MS program in Computer Science. 14% of the admitted students in the 2022 academic year were from underrepresented backgrounds. In 2022, we admitted 14 students to the PhD program, of which 3 were women, and 2 diversity students. This move is important both for the diversity of the MS program itself and because the program could serve as a stepping stone to our PhD programs, especially for historically marginalized students who show promise (and have great teaching experience as TAs) but lack the research preparation to get accepted directly to PhD programs. Since the MS program recruits almost exclusively from Cornell undergraduates, the first and most important step is to advertise the MS program to historically marginalized students at Cornell, identify qualified individuals (e.g., those who have worked as undergrad TAs for CS courses but who may have self-selected as prospective graduate candidates), and move to directly solicit applications from them.
Increasing the Applicant Pool
We have run special sessions to talk to prospective students and help them apply to our programs multiple venues at Tapia (9/22), Grace Hopper (9/22), NAM Mathfest (10/21), the Cornell STEM Preview Event (11/21), the Karsh STEM Scholars meeting (11/21), the LEAP Graduate School Session (11/21), and the Morehouse McNair Scholars meeting (2/22).
In the fall 2020 and 2021 our PhD students run an online program to help with application essays for prospective students from underrepresented backgrounds. Commenting on and helping with as many as 90 applications each year. We will be running the same program for Fall 2022.
In another recruiting initiative to increasing diversity of the candidate pool, we have also run for several years now the Sonic one week summer workshops (this is now run by CIS with support of CS faculty members, in 2022 Tapo Bhattacharjee). It targets students who are pursuing an undergraduate or master’s degree in the computer science or engineering and though SoNIC is open to all students, we encourage the participation of students who identify as underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics field.
Advising and Mentoring
Over the past two years, we have also instituted a series of improvements to the faculty mentoring system for PhD students. Each incoming student is now assigned two faculty mentors: an “in-area mentor” in the student’s research area and an “out-of-area mentor” deliberately chosen to be in a different area. Faculty mentors should meet with their first year mentees four times: an initial meeting at the start of the semester, a check-up after Fall Break, a wrap-up meeting at the end of the semester, and the start of Spring semester. We provide students and their mentors with a “script” recommending some potentially useful discussion topics, and we track these meetings using a spreadsheet and send reminders to mentors whose meetings with mentees are overdue. (Prior to 2020, we used only out-of-area mentors, and they were required to meet with their mentees at least three times during the first semester and at least once during the second semester.) We are considering an early arrival program, possibly for summer of 2023.
In a graduate program composed of students with more varied backgrounds, it is important to take deliberate action to share common knowledge about such things as strategies for academic and professional success. To this end, we have enhanced the CS department’s weekly Brown Bag seminar (now renamed to Lunch and Learn) to include a series of professional development talks and panels. The Fall 2022 program includes the following (incomplete) list of topics:
Setting and managing expectations in grad school (Bharath Hariharan)
Applying for Fellowships (Eva Tardos)
How to give a talk (Ken Birman)
Towards the same goal of establishing common knowledge about academic expectations and guidelines, we instituted a “re-orientation session” in the first week of the spring semester (of the first year of graduate school), during which the DGS presents material relevant to students’ academic planning for the spring, including reiterating suggestions and requirements that were already listed in the Fall orientation.
Cornell is part of the LEAP Alliance, an NSF-funded Broadening Participation in Computing Alliance focused on diversifying future leadership in the computing professoriate at research universities as a way to increase diversity across the field of computing. The CIS DEI office has been reaching out more actively to get LEAP students from other institutions to come here (we had one in-person last year, and one only virtual – hope for two in-person this year). We have been looking into ways to support LEAP students going to conferences. This currently is a part of the Hopper-Dean funding joint with the Graduate School, with $2K for general professional development funds (which can include conference travel) per student per year.
Retention and Support Resources
The CS Department is actively pursuing funding to aid in fostering inclusion and retention of diversity students. Examples of specific initiatives:
- Conference Travel: We aim to increase the amount of funding available for students to travel to conferences, even if they do not yet have an advisor or the advisor’s own funds are insufficient to cover the cost of travel.
- Relocation Expense Fund: Students supported on Hopper-Dean and similar Graduate School-linked fellowships now have a $1K move-in support fund.
- Administrative Support: For graduate students engaged in activities that promote diversity, the DEI office provides administrative support when possible..
- Department Service: The department relies on student volunteers in the form of czar-ships. We recognize that Black and Latinc students often get asked for a disproportionate share of such service, especially involving issues of diversity and inclusion. Diversity and Inclusion is important to our whole community, so we will not allow this burden to fall on certain groups of students.
In this section we enumerate a number of initiatives to improve the climate for PhD students in CS and CIS at Cornell.
In March 2021, Dr. LeeAnn Roberts organized a Town Hall on Anti-Asian Bias following racial motivated incidents in the sequel of the Covid pandemic.
The department chair and DGS have regular meetings with the student group leaders to hear their concerns and inform decisions on activities to support them. There are also town halls twice a year with all the students.
The CS department runs a “Topics in Technology and Society” reading group (led by Haym Hirsh and Anil Damle) in Spring 2021 and Fall 2022 for graduate students. These offerings of the reading group have focused on the intersection of race and technology and engage the CS community with issues of racial injustice and how they intersect with technology.
There are a number of active student groups also at the PhD level. These groups work to keep a cohesive community and also help raise issues to the department leadership. The Cornell Computer Science Graduate Organization (CSGO) is the general body of the computer science PhD students, whose leaders are elected by the body of all graduate students (MEng, MS, PhD). The CSGO leaders meet regularly with the department leadership (director and assistant of the MS/PhD programs, department chair, and the director of administration). The group Graduate Students for Gender Inclusion in Computing (GSGIC) advocates for gender equity and inclusion in computing and related fields at Cornell by combating harassment, pushing for policy change, and creating supportive spaces within our professional environment, especially within the graduate school. The Cornell graduate URMC group aims to ensure that individuals from many unique backgrounds feel included in the community by connecting existing students with the incoming classes in Computer and Information Science over coffee and dinners. There are also a number of broader graduate student groups that many of our students are members of, including the Graduate and Professional Assembly (GPSA) and the LGBTQAI+ graduate student association QGrads.
Computer Science Staff
Cornell continues to provide training opportunities for staff and faculty in subjects pertinent to the development of historical awareness of racism and ways to combat it and sexual and related misconduct through the CULearn system.
Additionally, in September 2020, a required course for Cornell staff with training on equity and cultural competency was made available. The course entitled, “Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Cornell,” consisted of six modules, each with a required online component and voluntary community chats to deepen engagement with the material. All required components had to be completed by September 15, 2022.
Bowers CIS plans quartely all staff meetings each year where one meeting in the spring is dedicated to expanded learning on topics to continue advancing our DEI goals as well as building a community sense of belonging. In 2021-22, the focus was on the LARA (Listen, Affirm, Respond, Ask questions) method. Cornell Organization Development and Effectiveness brought a team to teach staff the methods and used breakout sessions to practice learning. It was well attended and valued by all.
Computer Science Faculty
Over the last several years, the CS department paid attention to the goal of improving the diversity of the faculty through the hiring process, yet we still have a long way to go to achieve representation of faculty from diverse backgrounds. The CS Department continues to pay close attention to expanding the diversity of faculty candidates that are invited to interview, subsequently receive offers, as well as accept offers at Cornell.
The department is already working with a number of peer institutions (through the FLIP alliance) to try to prepare a cohort of faculty candidates from underrepresented groups, and we hope, by these means, to be able attract some of these diverse students as prospective faculty. Hiring faculty, of course, first involves simply getting candidates to apply, then having them interview, making them offers, and negotiating to acceptance, and we recommend the CS Department put into place record-keeping mechanisms to see at what phases we lose candidates from underrepresented groups, and to monitor whether proposed actions have in fact improved retention of these sought-after candidates through the different stages of hiring.
We are continually asking: what can we do, first, to attract diverse talent? And then, how can we succeed in having such talent join the ranks of the faculty—feeling welcomed and supported in the transitional stages from new hire to permanent member?
We are paying special attention to considering and interviewing a diverse set of faculty candidates. In the 2021 academic year, we successfully hired 4 new faculty members, two women and two men. We also made offers to 2 African American faculty members but unfortunately, these offers were not accepted (one went to MIT, and the other to Stanford). In the 2022 hiring season 16 of 32 interviews are women, 1 is from Native American group. We have hired two new faculty members, both women.
We require a DEI statement for faculty applicants (as well as for promotions), and made the discussion of DEI plans a standard part of our interview process.
In recent months, the CS faculty have participated in a number of training sessions conducted during faculty meetings to improve faculty understanding of these issues. Presentations included:
Sara Hernandez, Associate Dean for Inclusion and Student Engagement at the Graduate School, who offered training on implicit bias and microaggressions.
There was a faculty meeting devoted to understanding Title IX rules.
A DEI discussion with Yael Levitte, Associate vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity.
A presentation on bystander training by CIS DEI director LeeAnn Roberts
Faculty took turns in helping run the undergraduate TA training—a session that included a component on understanding and combating implicit bias.
A 2h session (at the faculty retreat) by Sara Hernandez and Colleen McLinn from the graduate school about equity in graduate education
All faculty took the mandatory HR training Maintaining a Harassment Free Workplace. We offered a bystander intervention training to faculty and staff in April of 2021. Over 80% or the participants found the training informative, thought that it would help them understand how to (and when to) intervene.