Lydia Tapia of University of New Mexico
Dr. Tapia’s team studies motions. Things like swing control of load on an autonomous flight vehicle.
That is — she gets to play with robots! But, why does she do it? To see her students go on and get funding and have fun careers in robotics.
She lives in New Mexico — a minority majority state where 30% of the children live in poverty. 65% are eligible for medicade. She’s working hard to encourage undergraduates to become graduate students.
Dr. Tapia is careful not to single out any of her students in a public way for being a minority — she highlights their accomplishments.
She’s discovered that graduate students like to have power and be in control of their own thing — so she trains them as mentors for undergraduates, giving them responsibility.
With her undergraduates, she has to be very clear about expectations, assign a daily mentor and get them working in small teams with measurable small projects.
She’s doing research on allergy anti-body binding behaviour. Apparently 1500 people die every year due to an allergic reaction. (wow!)
Cool pictures of molecules! Problem was that their models did not match the pictures of real ones. Looked at just the antibodies and were able to get graphs that matched real life — but needed a computer to be able to sort. So, bring in undergraduate researcher!
Got great results and gave them to the medical department to help with their research.
She also works with high school researchers. Side note: did you know you can be allergic to cockroaches?
Not enough? She organized a workshop! Additionally, she takes demos to to K-12 schools… well, not middle school. They get bored (or at least pretend to be). Elementary and high school students love them. 🙂
She had to put a limit on the demos to one a month as it was putting a drain on her research staff.
Doing all this, she has to remember to balance her outreach with making sure she keeps her career on track. If she doesn’t get tenure, she can’t keep inspiring students to pursue robotics, modeling and science!
Lecia Barker, of University of Texas at Austin
Presenting on behalf of Joanne McGrath Cohoon, professor, University of Virginia Senior Research Scientist, NCWIT. Dr. Cohoon is battling cancer and could not be here to accept her award or talk about her work in person.
When Joanne was thinking about dropping out of her PhD program, her parents really inspired and supported her to stay in. Her husband, Jim, always supported her having a career when wives were expected to stay home and take care of the house.
Many people along the way continued to support her and encourage her to stay in the PhD program.
In her research, in schools where she found that people deliberately encouraged students to improve gender diversity — it worked! More women were retained in these areas.
Joanne doesn’t target women and girls in her outreach, but more the influencers and those who can make the positive changes. We need to change the system to sustain the change. This sometimes means changing how we teach.
One teach in one year introduced pair programming and many other gender diversity encouraging programs. Big improvement in his department seen very quickly.