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Expanding the Computer Science Pipeline

Freshman Got Her Start at UMD Summer Camp; New Iribe Diversity Initiative Will Open More Opportunities

By Kimbra Cutlip

Utsa Santhosh mentors students

Photo by Justin Derato/2011 photo courtesy of MCWIC

Computer science major Utsa Santhosh (center) mentors students at a Maryland Center for Women in Computing (MCWIC) event last month. Her love of computing was inspired by similar events and began when Santosh was a sixth grader (below) attending a UMD summer camp for girls in computing.

Utsa Santhosh feels like she and the new Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Engineering have grown up together.

Santhosh had just finished her third and final year at UMD’s CompSciConnect summer camp for middle schoolers when Iribe, alumnus and co-founder of the virtual reality company Oculus, pledged $30 million for the construction of the new building and $1 million for scholarships.

Throughout high school, Santhosh returned to UMD every summer as a teaching assistant for the camp that encourages young girls to explore computer science, and she’d see the building progress. “As a teaching assistant, I made friends with a lot of the college students,” Santhosh said. “Hearing their experiences really made me excited, not only to come to Maryland but also to major in comp sci. Now, finally I’m a freshman, and it’s really exciting to be one of the first groups of students in the new building. I’m so inspired by all the collaborative work spaces and the innovative initiatives going on there.”Young Utsa Santhosh

The pipeline of aspiring computer scientists—from youths to University of Maryland majors—will grow exponentially through the new Iribe Initiative for Inclusion and Diversity in Computing. Supported by a new $1 million gift from Iribe, it will build on the success of the Maryland Center for Women in Computing (MCWIC) by creating programs to support and inspire students from all genders, backgrounds and underrepresented populations.

In addition to after-school programs and summer camps for elementary through high school students, the initiative will inspire and retain a diverse community of computer science majors through tutoring, a computing-related student organization, a computer science inclusion speaker seminar series and funding for students to attend computing conferences.

“Increasing diversity in computer science is so important for many reasons,” said Jandelyn Plane, the new initiative’s director and a principal lecturer in the Department of Computer Science. “A critical step in building diversity is creating a sense of community. I think it makes a big difference for underrepresented groups to see college students and professionals like themselves succeeding in the field.”

Plane founded MCWIC in 2014 as an outgrowth of CompSciConnect, which has expanded since Santhosh joined as a sixth grader in 2011. Today, CompSciConnect hosts a variety of camps, conferences, workshops, research opportunities and partnerships.

Over the last five years, MCWIC’s programming has helped to double the number of female undergraduates in the department. With 650 female computer science majors, UMD is home to one of the largest female computer science populations in the country. MCWIC will continue to operate as a home for women in computing, but the new initiative will serve as an umbrella entity with an expanded mission to support students from all backgrounds.

“Without a doubt, I am a UMD computer science student because of CompSciConnect and MCWIC,” Santhosh said. “I know firsthand how successful these efforts are. In high school, I was the only girl in my comp sci class, but I knew that there were people like me out there and they had made it through and were doing a lot of cool things.”

She can’t wait to see the next crop of summer campers donning virtual reality headsets. “It’s amazing to watch them doing things with technology that didn’t even exist a few years ago, and most people still don’t even have access to.”

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