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The entire SoNIC and Social Impact group, along with CIS lead faculty members Phoebe Sengers and Hakim Weatherspoon.

CIS programs aim to draw minority STEM students to academic careers

Darian Nwankwo, SoNIC participant and incoming computer science doctoral student.

Twenty rising seniors and graduate students spent a week examining how technology can be designed to improve people’s lives at last month’s Summer School on Designing Technology for Social Impact, a new workshop aimed at encouraging minorities in STEM to consider careers in academia. 

The workshop was held at the same time as the SoNIC Summer Research Workshop, which brought 25 students to Cornell to experience cloud computing and network research firsthand, with the goal of encouraging them to pursue doctorates. 

“We need to attract a more diverse set of workers to the field of computer science generally, and to computer-science research in particular,” said Fred Schneider, professor of computer science. “Events like these are an important mechanism for helping to achieve that goal.” 

Both workshops were offered by Computing and Information Science (CIS) and were free to participants. 

“It’s super cool,” said Kevin Sun, a junior computer science major at the University of Washington who participated in SoNIC, now in its eighth year. “We get the high-level ideas and then dive deep to the point where we are actually coding how servers work. It’s not only three-hour research sessions; we get to hear from faculty about their careers and hear their stories.”  

The Summer School on Designing Technology for Social Impact was open to students from a range of disciplines, including informatics, computer science, communication and visual arts. 

Through lectures and working groups led by faculty, students in the program learned how to analyze the values embedded in technology design, and how to design technologies to promote diverse perspectives and positive change. 

SoNIC was open to students with backgrounds in computer science, electrical engineering, math and physics. 

“The SoNIC program helps you understand how you can study STEM at a graduate level especially as an underrepresented minority,” said Darian Nwankwo, an incoming Ph.D. student in computer science. “Sometimes people don’t understand that you can go to graduate school completely subsidized, especially in computer science.” 

The programs will be offered again next summer. The deadline to apply for the social impact workshop is in late February, and the deadline for SoNIC is in early March. 

Media Contact

Jeff Tyson