Category: Girls and Technology

Visiting Dinosaur National Monument

RGB Adventures visited Dinosaur National Monument on the Utah and Colorado border.  This was one of my favorite monuments I have visited so far in the last six months.  We spent three days in the park and we still did not have a chance to explore the northernmost areas of the park and missed the Gates of Lourdes…something for next time.  Perhaps because of Covid19, it was the least amount of people we have come into contact with in the national parks and monuments.  It was wonderful to have so many hikes and opportunities to visit petroglyphs by ourselves.  I highly recommend getting the first 9am appointment at the quarry and doing hikes by 7am.  Most people are not out and about yet and the sun isn’t beating down on you.  Also, the rangers still are excited to answer questions!  The temperatures are more in the 70s instead of the 90s. 

This blog and video are dedicated to the members of the National Girls Collaborative Project.  When I worked for Microsoft, I had the opportunity to join the champions board and volunteer for the organization for the last 10 years.  As many who know me are aware, I am passionate about encouraging women to undertake careers in engineering and STEM and that is what NGCP is all about with an amazing leader and great friend Karen Peterson!  I hope this blog excites girls to consider careers in the environmental sciences!

We started off by entering at the Jensen, Utah gate and went to our campsite at Green River Campground.  There were several first come first serve sites there so we did not have to make a reservation.   The next day, we got up early in the morning to hike through several petroglyph sites, enjoyed the amazing rock formations at the Sound of Silence 3.2 mile hike and instead of taking the tram we did the 1.2 mile one way discovery fossil hike to the quarry exhibit.  You must go online and make a reservation for the quarry due to COVID19, its only $1 a person. 

At the quarry there are park rangers and scientists who are geologists, archeologists, anthropologists and paleontologists studying these dinosaur bones.  Their research into ancient life helps us better understand earth and human life.  They have helped us better understand how different organisms interacted with each other and the environment and how its changed over time.  They are helping us understand the effects of climate change and how plants and animals are evolving. They also help us better understand why certain life goes extinct while others keep surviving.  If learning about these areas are exciting to you then you may want to pursue a career in Geology, Archeology, Paleontology or Environmental Science.

I had a chance to meet, talk and interview a park ranger who is a geologist and archeologist.  She told me that today the quarry is home to over 1,500 dinosaur bones and they encourage you in some places to touch the 149-million-year-old dinosaur fossils in the exhibit quarry.  It was exciting to hear her stories about the history of the park and the quarry.  The quarry contained eleven different species of dinosaurs such as allosaurusdiplodocus, and stegosaurus.  Check out the online multi- media exhibit of the quarry. When you see the quarry you wonder did paleontologists really discover the bones as they are presented, or did someone artfully place them here for effect?   Is this real or just a replica of what was in the past when they first dug up these bones? The answer is that paleontologists discovered the bones just where you see them today!  It’s incredible that everything in the quarry is real. The bones are just as nature arranged them more than 150 million years ago, deposited by an ancient stream.

The river coursed through a lowland area and dried up. Dinosaurs gathered around shrinking pools of water in the river bed and eventually died in place, to be entombed by sand and gravel when the river flowed once again. With more time, the river amassed large quantities of bones (like a huge graveyard, behind a dam). Layers of mud and sand began covering the bones, eventually hardening into rock. Here they remained, waiting for the next cataclysmic event and the explorers who eventually discovered them.

About sixty-five million years ago, that event began to occur. Forces beneath the earth’s crust began to exert themselves, forcing the crust upward, causing it to buckle and the riverbed containing the bones to tilt upward. Now near the surface, it was inevitable that erosion would eventually expose the bones and that one day someone would find them.  In 1909, Earl Douglas found the first bones of dinosaurs here as he was searching for fossils for the Carnegie Museum when he discovered a formation layered with prehistoric plant and animal fossils. A quarry was established and in 1915 Dinosaur National Monument was created to protect 80 acres in the quarry area as people were pilfering dinosaur bones. Today, the monument includes over 210,000 acres across two states. After this amazing experience, we returned to the visitor center via the discovery trail and by 10am it was already 90 degrees! 

We returned to our campsite only to be overrun with aggressive ground squirrels and chipmunks.  This is what happens when bad humans habitually feed the wildlife.  Bad humans!  So we headed to the River Access about a mile past the campground, to escape the little marauders.  It was relaxing to enjoy the Green River and admire the rock formations.  Let me tell you a little science behind all these different looking rock formations you will see in my video and below.

The geology and rock formations are amazing.  The following information comes from the National park Service.  Dinosaur National Monument receives less than 12 inches of precipitation a year, vegetation is thin and the rock layers and the geologic features are clearly visible.  Dinosaur is located on the southeast flank of the Uinta Mountains, a subrange of the Rocky Mountains and the highest mountain range in the contiguous United States that runs east to west. The landscape at Dinosaur was shaped by the development of these mountain ranges during the Laramide Orogeny, 70-40 million years ago.  Twenty-three rock layers are exposed at the monument. These rock layers are remnants of extinct ecosystems spanning 1.2 billion years, from ancient seas, to plains where dinosaurs roamed, to Sahara-like deserts that were home to tiny, early mammals. When the Rocky Mountains began to rise, this area went along for the ride.

At Dinosaur, the mountain-building did not simply push up the rock layers from below, but also squeezed them from the sides, warping and lifting them, sometimes cracking and shifting them along fault lines.

Throughout the monument, much of the spectacular scenery–the faults, folded and uplifted rock layers, and river canyons more than a thousand feet deep–reflect the tremendous geological forces that shaped this area.  You can see this at Split Mountain, the Sound of Silence hike (there is a virtual tour on my video of this hike) and the amazing canyon views on the Harpers Canyon Road in the Canyon entrance by Dinosaur, CO.  The Green and Yampa rivers are central to the extensive geologic history on display at the monument. Over millions of years, the waters of the Green and Yampa have cut deep canyons, exposing rock layers that were uplifted during the Laramide Orogeny.

The next morning before we left the monument, we road our e-bikes to visit two more petroglyph sites past the Green River Campground, hike Box Canyon and visit Josie Morris’s cabin (she was one of the first woman homesteaders in the area-you have to read about her amazing story).  Most petroglyphs in the monument came from the Fremont Indians, who lived in the canyons in and around Dinosaur National Monument 800 – 1,200 years ago. They were the forerunners of tribes such as the Ute and Shoshone, who still inhabit communities in the area today. 

Homesteading was a man’s world back in the 1900’s.  It was interesting to read about Josie defying the woman’s role as people knew it back then and paving the way for woman to own property. With no money to buy property, in 1913 Josie decided to homestead in Cub Creek in what is now the Dinosaur National Monument. Here she built her own cabin and lived for over 50 years in it mostly by herself. For a time, Josie shared her home with her son Crawford and his wife; grandchildren spent summers working and playing alongside Josie.

Raised on the frontier, Josie lived into the modern era of electronics. For friends and acquaintances in the 1950s, Josie was a link to a world past. During Prohibition in the 1920s and into the 1930s, Josie brewed apricot brandy and chokecherry wine. After a lifetime of dressing in skirts, she switched to wearing pants in her later years. She was tried and acquitted twice for cattle rustling when she was in her 60s. At the age of 71, in an ambitious move to revive a profitable cattle business, she deeded her land away and lost all but the five acres where her cabin still stands.

After our bike ride and hikes we headed out of the park and down highway 40 to the Dinosaur, CO Canyon Visitor Center entrance to see the canyon, change of vegetation and scenery.  It’s about 10 degrees cooler here because of the higher elevation.   We ended our visit by driving down Harpers Corner Road to see the Red Rock Canyon and Round Top Mountain and Island Park Overlook we were able to look down to the area we camped and explored which was an interesting perspective.  I recommend people of all ages to venture to this monument.  If you can’t make it, then you can watch our virtual tour.

Here are our top 5 things to do in the park:

  1. Do the tour of the quarry and if able the discovery fossil hike
  2. Hike the Sound of Silence during sunrise
  3. Camp at Green River Campground
  4. Check out the three Petroglyphs sites/hikes
  5. Cool off in the Green River at the River Access about 1 mile past the campground

Back to Changing the World or Not?

The old saying, “If I knew then what I know now”, echoes in my mind.

I would have not gone to the Hackathon in LA back in 2013 and when my doctor said I must rest. I would have had my husband hide my cellphone, laptop and taken it easy.  Instead, for the next six months, I still went online on my phone doing emails and answering what I thought were crucial emails and calling colleagues on how to execute important projects.

Of-course looking back none of it was more crucial than my health, I wasn’t saving lives, things could have waited.  Others within Microsoft would’ve taken the slack.  However, my ego was hard to reign in.  I thought what I was doing was so critical and no one else had the expertise and needed my coaching for things to be completed exactly the way I thopught they needed to be done.

Many of us think we can just ‘tough it out’ and work through cold, illness, etc.  What ‘toughing it out’ did do was postpone my recovery. Failure to heed my body’s warning signs caused dizziness, migraines, memory loss, executive function and slowed my multi-tasking abilities.  I now had to do eye therapy and my ability to focus  (switching from looking close and away) diminished to the ability of an eight-year-old and required me to relearn my focus and get glasses for the first time in my life.

So, after six months of eye therapy, no driving (Five years later, I still lack the confidence to drive and am only slowly adding in daytime driving for short distances.  But last month I did do my first long 200 mile drive from Bend to Newport, Oregon ), no television, no computer, no reading, no alcohol, no caffeine, no high intensity exercise, constant migraine headaches, dizziness, nausea, word searching, memory loss, six more black out concussions and lack of balance.  Then one day I awoke with a clearing in my head I had not felt in 6 months.  I went to the neurologist, she did some tests and said I think you are okay to go back to work but you must take it slow!  Do not jump fully in and do not take too much on you have been resting your brain for 6 months you need a slow transition back to work.

I did not realize her definition of slow was very different from mine.  Compared to the way I used to work, 12-18 hour days, I was only working 10 now.  Instead of traveling 3 weeks a month, I started with just a few days a month.  But as the months drove on, I was feeling more and more like myself again.

There was so much work to be done in diversity in computer science, combating human trafficking, committees for the White House Office of Technology Policy on computer science education for underrepresented groups and technology implications of human trafficking, hackathons, hacks for good, conferences, keynotes, panels, guest lectures, publications, projects with UN Women, NCWIT, ABI, CRA-W, ACM-W and the making of Dream Big (movie featuring young women in computer science changing the world), that I started back to my 16 hour days, and my crazy travel of three weeks a month.

Rane moderating Big Dream Panel at the Napa Valley Film Festival

Taking on diversity and Computer Science efforts at top universities around the country heading to India, Korea, UK, Brazil, Singapore, and across the United States.  In a previous blog post, you saw our film was featured at the Napa Valley Film Festival and was being shown all over the world.  I was so excited about the progress!  Also, the fact that Microsoft and Microsoft Research’s efforts were highlighted in many of the top publications (i.e. Slate, NPR, Huffington Post), I couldn’t but help agreeing to serve on nonprofit boards needing our help and expertise, at one point I was on thirteen boards.  My hubris and type A drive which had carried me so far was a hindrance to my healing.

At every free moment, I was working on some project with one of the many non-profits (as you know I am a get shit done person and not just a sit and advise type person).  In my spare time, I was at home trying to transform my local community (Bend, Oregon) by supporting more STEM efforts, starting a scholarship for under-represented groups in computer science and engineering at OSU-Cascades, helping entrepreneurs, volunteering with the tech community and local youth, mentoring and teaching a course called ‘Ethics and Computer Science’ at OSU-Cascades. I could feel the exhaustion coming on but I thought to myself “just one more conference and then I will take two weeks off and be fine.”

I am here to tell you, we are not robots and you can continue to ignore the signs your body gives off but if you don’t listen it will force you to listen.  As Type A workaholics, passionate and ready to take on the world are bodies are resilient but not that resilient!  You cannot ‘tough it out’ you must pause when your body needs a pause even if it is just a mental health day from work.

So, on May 23, 2015, while attending a conference on behalf of Microsoft I had just finished several sessions and presentations at Day one of the NCWIT Conference in Hilton Head.  I had a dinner meeting with Mayim Bialik (Big Bang Theory-that was so cool!) discussing our film and her possible support and how Microsoft could possibly support a new Girls in STEM TV series she was going to kick off.  We returned to the hotel and I saw several of the researchers I was working with on a number of projects at the bar talking asking me to come join them.

After discussing theories, projects, new opportunities and changing the world of computer science it was reaching midnight and time for me to head for bed.  I was tired and started to feel a pain in my side (later I would figure out that would be a sign that I would blackout soon) but I ignored it and kept on.  As I walked away from the bar area to the elevators, the next minute I know I awoke in someone’s arms, with so many people surrounding me, all dazed and confused as I try to get up.  There was shouting, “Rane don’t move you’re bleeding and bleeding a  lot.”

Suddenly, EMTs are walking briskly toward me as my eye sight slowly comes back from a fog of gray and blurs.  “Ma’am you blacked out and hit your head, you have a good side gash on your head, can you just lay back we are going to put you in a neck brace and start an IV?” said the nice EMT gentleman.  One of my research friends from Harvey Mudd University began telling the EMT what had happened and he had her and a staffer from NCWIT follow the ambulance to the Emergency Room (thanks Catherine & Colleen).

Rane in emergency room sending selfie to her husband to calm him down, trying to make it look not so bad.

I had thrown up a few times in the ambulance (sorry Mr. EMT guy- all over him) and still could not comprehend what was going on. While waiting for the doctor, my colleagues called my husband and tried not to scare him with me being in the emergency room again and blacking out after hitting my head.  Once they were done, then I was taken for MRI, CT Scan, stitches and forced to stay awake for a few hours to ensure I wasn’t going to go to sleep and never wake up again.  I finally got back to the hotel at 4AM looking like a semi-truck hit me, it took me an hour to wash all the coagulated blood out of my hair. I went to sleep and at 10am I awoke to call the airline and get a flight back to Bend, Oregon to go to my neurologist.  I flew out with frustration, here we go again.  With a horrible migraine, nausea and dizziness, I headed to the airport to what would be a multi leg eight-hour (the take offs and landings were excruciating with another concussion) flight before I finally got back to Bend and into the arms of my husband. It was also so humiliating for an extremely independent person to be whisked on and off the planes on a wheel chair as people looked at me like oh that poor young woman. Talk about a humbling experience.  I was beaten down.

This resulted in the next several years of trying to figure out why I was blacking out, thirteen more concussions resulting in me having traumatic brain injury and fighting the insurance company for my long-term disability.  Who would know the benefit you pay into hoping you will never have to use would be so difficult to obtain.  Once you need this benefit, how difficult it is to get it, even harder to keep it and then battling their doctors, lawyers, appeals and lawsuits to get the money and benefits you need, deserve and have earned. No one explains how you need to fill out all these forms and one little error can make your benefits never happen.  Having to go on unpaid medical leave due to this (I will have an entire blog dedicated to this subject later in my blog series to help those dealing with long-term and short-term disability claims, so you know what to do to get the benefits you deserve).  I would move from one doctor visit a year with my primary care for annual physical and flu shot to multiple visits a week with the following healthcare providers: Neurologist, Vasovagal Specialist, Optometrist, Vestibular Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Neurofeedback Psychologist, Psychologist, Acupuncturist and Chiropractor.

I didn’t realize how life threatening it could be for you if you tried to just push through the pain.  I plead with you if you have a concussion to please take the needed time off and screen time off! I learned the hard way and trust me you don’t want to go through this.  During this process, I had to get character letters from friends and colleagues about the Rane before and the Rane after all these concussions for the lawyers and it was painful to read the new person I had become.  As I researched what was wrong with me, I realized we still don’t know much about the brain and especially concussions. I read and listened to everything I could on TBI and concussions.   I will spare you with the peer review scholarly research publications (they are quite dry, interesting but will put you to sleep) but here are my top three books for you to read if you or a family member is dealing with this issue.  Next week, my blog will be on lessons learned on how  Type A’s can rest your brain.

  1. Super Better by Jane McGonigal
  2. Mindstorms: The Complete Guide for Families Living with Traumatic Brain Injury by John W Cassidy
  3. Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: A Guide to Living with the Challenges Associated with Post Concussion Syndrome and Brain Trauma by Barbara Albers Hill and Diane Roberts Stoler

Celebrating International Women’s Day

Raneheadshot2014 Despite all the efforts, wide gender imbalance still exists in innovation worldwide, with number of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields decreasing from secondary school to university, laboratories to teaching, and policy making to decision making.

At the same time, most developed countries are forecasting an alarming shortfall in the number of skilled people to fill these jobs. The International Telecommunications Union predicts that 90 percent of future professional positions will require information and communications technology skills as well as a solid background in science or technology. Developing women’s competencies will widen the pool available to perform these tasks, while opening opportunities for women to pursue their dreams.

iwdThis is why Microsoft believes in the importance of diversity to drive innovation and the need to enable women all over the world to become producers of tomorrow’s technology. I am excited to join Microsoft executives Lori Forte Harnick and Margo Day, as we partner with U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Center, United Nations Office for Partnerships and UN Women, for the 5th Annual International Women’s Day Forum: The Empowerment Bridge: Building Economic Empowerment for Women and Girls, held in New York City Wednesday and Thursday.

This event is particularly important to me, being a first-generation Vietnamese American. I was an immigrant at-risk youth who was emancipated at age 14. It was an interest in science, engineering and technology that helped me grow out of poverty and become a leader in the field. To see young women around the world embrace this field and create solutions that will make a difference inspires me every day and excites me to represent Microsoft as we partner with amazing organizations to enable every girl in the world reach their full potential.

I am excited to work with Lori, who leads Microsoft’s global work on corporate social responsibility as general manager for Citizenship & Public Affairs. She will kick off the event with Marc DeCourcey, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Corporate Citizenship Center. Personally and professionally Marc has seen how lives and entire communities are transformed when women are empowered. Through his work with the Red Cross and currently with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, he understand the value of business, nonprofits and governments all coming together to improve lives.

Lori’s passion to help students all over the world makes her perfect for this event. Not only does she lead Microsoft’s social responsibility and service, legal and public policy arm, she serves on a number of boards and an advocate in the community. I love that she is an active volunteer for Global Give Back Circle, which integrates mentoring, private sector engagement, government and local community support to help at-risk girls in Africa complete their education, gain employable skills and transition into the workplace.

Lori will be speaking about sustainable development goals and the role of the business community during a panel Thursday. She has been mentoring Egypt-born Raneem Medhat as part of Microsoft’s YouthSpark initiative. “She is a few months away from graduating university with a computer science degree,” Lori says of Raneem. “It is really interesting to work with her at this juncture in her life.”

Also, as part of the event, Microsoft’s Vice President of U.S. Public Sector Education Margo Day will have a discussion about accelerating STEM education with Anna Maria Chávez, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts USA and Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s chief of staff. It will be an inspiring and action-filled session, with one of my favorite broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien of CNN moderating.

Margo is perfect for this discussion not only because she is leading our work in education across the country, but in September 2011, she stepped away from her role at Small and Midmarket Solutions and Partners to focus her passion and energy on raising funds and awareness for the Kenya Vulnerable Girls Education Project and Child Protection, partnering with World Vision, an effort that built schools and deepened community advocacy for education.

We will end the day with a screening of “Big Dream” and a panel discussion with the director, and a student from the film, as well as partners UN Women and Global Girls Collaborative Project.

Underwritten by Microsoft, “Big Dream” follows the intimate stories of seven young women who are breaking barriers and overcoming personal challenges to follow their passions in science, math, computing and engineering. Much like International Women’s Day itself, the hope of the film is to show young women all over the world that computer science is creative, collaborative and impactful ― and they can be producers of the solutions that will solve the world’s greatest challenges.

Learn more on how you can enable women around the world:

Host a free screening: Big Dream Movement
Learn: Free CS online learning for girls
Find resources: UN Women Empower Women
Find STEM organizations near you: National Girls Collaborative Project, US Chamber Commerce Foundation
Watch the State Department’s American Film Showcase

Scholarships to Increase Gender Diversity in Computer Science

Women are woefully under-represented in computing fields. I know; you’ve heard me say this before, but the statistics bear repeating: In 2014, women made up less than 20 percent of those graduating with computer and information science degrees, despite the fact that women overall accounted for more than half of all baccalaureate graduates.

This dearth of women pursuing computing degrees is doubly unfortunate. First, it deprives the economy of much-needed talent: the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that, at present rates, only 39 percent of the estimated 1.2 million computing-related jobs in 2022 will be filled by computing graduates. Second, women bring a unique perspective to male-dominated computing fields, providing the team diversity that executives value.

Microsoft Research is committed to increasing women’s presence in computing, which is why we established the Graduate Women’s Scholarship. These scholarships offer vital support to female computing students during their second year of graduate studies: a US$15,000 stipend plus a US$2,000 travel and conference allowance—resources to help the recipients gain visibility in their departments, acquire mentorship, and cover the ever-growing cost of graduate programs.

Here are the winners of the 2015 Microsoft Research Graduate Women’s Scholarship:

  • Alexandra Schofield, Cornell University
  • Hannah Gommerstadt, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Jane E, Stanford University
  • Jiaqi Mu, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  • Kaitlyn Becker, Harvard University
  • Kellie Ottoboni, University of California, Berkeley
  • Lisa Gai, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Olga Zamaraeva, University of Washington, Seattle
  • Sulekha Kulkarni, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Wenjie Xiong, Yale University

In addition to the Graduate Women’s Scholarships, Microsoft Research is proud to support the NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund, which provides U.S. academic institutions with funds (up to US$15,000 per project) to develop and implement initiatives for recruiting and retaining women in computer science and information technology fields of study. Learn more about the Seed Fund and the recently announced 2015 award recipients.

Congratulations to all the winning programs and students. We look forward to great things from 2015’s women in computing.

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research

Learn more

Diversifying Computer Science

Smart managers have long recognized the importance of diversity in the workplace. They know from experience what empirical research has shown: diverse teams outperform those made up of individual “all stars,” particularly when it comes to innovation.

The value of diversity is why Microsoft Research is pleased to join with other groups across the company to support the 2015 ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing (the Tapia Conference), the Association of Computing Machinery’s premier diversity event. The Tapia Conference brings together undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, researchers, and computing professionals of all backgrounds and ethnicities.

This year’s theme, “Diversity at Scale,” celebrates efforts that move beyond conversation and study into full implementation of diversity in all aspects of computing. Befitting our commitment to this goal, Microsoft attendees are a culturally and professionally diverse group of women and men representing different ethnicities, nationalities, and computing careers, including researchers, engineers, interns, and business executives.

Among the Microsoft leaders playing prominent roles in the conference are Microsoft Vice President Jacky Wright, who will deliver a keynote address on the power of data, and Jennifer Chayes, director of our New England and New York research labs, who will be participating in a fireside chat on big data. In addition, a number of Microsoft employees—including Jessica Lingel, Bhavini Soneji, and Fernando Diaz—will join me in supporting the career mentoring workshops, plenary sessions, poster presentations, and career fair.

Participants of the 2014 Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School
Participants of the 2014 Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School

Personally, I’m most excited about the poster session presentations from the diverse undergraduate students who attended the 2014 Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School (DS3). Designed to encourage participation from New York City area college students who are women, minorities, and individuals with disabilities, DS3 is a hands-on, eight-week introduction to data science. DS3 includes coursework in data science, taught by leading scientists from Microsoft Research’s lab in New York. The students study tools and techniques for acquiring, cleaning, and utilizing real-world data for research purposes, and are introduced to concepts in applied statistics and machine learning. DS3 students also participate group research projects, two of which will be represented at the poster session:

  • An Empirical Analysis of Stop-and-Frisk in New York City looks at the social cost of the city’s controversial stop-and-frisk program and develops a simple predictive model to aid officers in making better decisions about whom to stop and under what circumstances.
  • Self-Balancing Bikes explores a simple re-routing scheme to improve the availability of bikes while simultaneously reducing operating costs in the United States’ largest bike-sharing program.

If you are a college student from the New York area, you are welcome to apply for the 2015 Summer School. We will be accepting applications soon, online.

On the last day of the conference, I’ll join academic and industry leaders for a one-day summit where we will map out strategies for graduating more students who are ethnic minorities, women, and people with disabilities in the field of computing. We will also discuss methods for increasing their rate of advancement once they have entered the workplace. I’m looking forward to brainstorming some great initiatives for attaining diversity at scale!

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research

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Supporting UK’s Rising Stars in Computing

The United Kingdom has faced some tough economic times in the past 10 years, but the technology industry has remained strong throughout. The tech sector has played a key role in helping the economy bounce back from the recessions of 2008–2009 and 2011–2012. Nationwide, IT industry employment grew 5.5 percent between 2009 and 2012 and rose 20 percent in London (more than three times faster than the sector average) since the recession. Today, more than 1.3 million people work in the UK technology sector, and the industry is expected to grow more quickly in London than in the Silicon Valley in the next decade.

Participants of the workshop, Tips and Tools for Scientific Research Success, at the Microsoft Research Cambridge lab
Participants of the workshop, Tips and Tools for Scientific Research Success, at the Microsoft Research Cambridge lab

The tech industry has traditionally been a male-dominated field. The huge growth in the field would seem to be a natural incentive for young women to join their peers in the computer science classroom—especially since female students now account for 55 percent of the enrollments in higher education in the UK (HESA 2013). Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Fewer than 3 percent of the UK’s 403,000 higher education graduates in 2013 received computer science degrees. Women accounted for a meager 17 percent of that number (HESA 2013).

In an effort to encourage more women to stay in computer-related PhD programs and understand the opportunities in this field, Microsoft Research offered a workshop on Tips and Tools for Scientific Research Success at its Cambridge lab, June 16–18, 2014.

Following the example of successful programs created by CRA-W Graduate Cohort and Future Science Leaders at Oxford University and the British Royal Society, the course aimed to educate attendees about Microsoft research tools, equip them with advice from experienced researchers about the opportunities of being an early-career researcher, and inspire them with examples from Microsoft Research that show the potential of computer science to change the world.

The event started with a day devoted to cloud computing and its potential for research. Participants could get hands-on experience with Microsoft Azure and create WordPress blogs and data-driven websites in no time. They experienced the power of Microsoft Azure for big data processing, sharing research data, deploying cloud services, and using Excel with Power BI to slice, dice, and visualize data. They learned how the Microsoft Azure for Research program could help researchers with their work, even if they decide to start their own business.

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Kenji Takeda, and Clare Morgan of Microsoft Research greeted participants at the Microsoft Azure for Research training that kicked off the workshop.
Rane Johnson-Stempson, Kenji Takeda, and Clare Morgan of Microsoft Research greeted participants at the Microsoft Azure for Research training that kicked off the workshop.

Attendees gained a better understanding of the tools Microsoft Research provides to help researchers (including Sand Dance, GeoS, CodaLab, ChronoZoom, and WorldWide Telescope) and of the opportunities available in working in an industry research lab. For example, Principal Researcher Don Syme (Microsoft Research Cambridge) told the story of how F#, the cutting-edge functional programming language, jumped from being a project in the lab to part of Microsoft’s mainstream language portfolio.

To help assure their ongoing success, workshop participants have been paired up with Microsoft Researchers in Cambridge, who will serve as informal coaches to provide guidance and advice in their first and second years of PhD study.

“A hands-on workshop to experience firsthand the mighty power of Microsoft Azure; an exciting lineup of talks discussing cutting-edge research; an inspiring induction to being skilful researchers; most importantly, an ever so valuable one-to-one interaction session with a mentor from Microsoft Research Cambridge. A truly interesting and thoroughly engaging event—a genuine inspiration to becoming champion researchers in Industry Research Labs.”
—Kavin Narasimhan, PhD student at Queen Mary, University at London

We look forward to helping these talented researchers grow throughout their careers. We’ll be running another workshop in the fall, so please let us know if you’re interested by emailing us at MSRWIC@microsoft.com.

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research
Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect and Technical Manager, Microsoft Research

Simon Mercer, Director of Health and Wellbeing, Microsoft Research

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A Hackathon Designed By Women, For Women, To Solve The Gender Gap

KoreaHackathon

This week, I was pleased to have Fast Company do a feature story on our Microsoft Research International Women’s Hackathon. The article was written by Jessica Leber. To read the article visit FastCompany.  You will need to scroll down to get to the article.

Women Around the World Hack for Good

HackathonCollage

I was honored to provide an article to one of the leading Education Technology magazines, EdTech.  To share with them the results of our International Women’s Hackathon.  To read the article visit EdTech.

Inviting Girls Around the World to Dream Big!

On March 8, we celebrated International Women’s Day. Every year on this date, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate their achievements. Women’s equality has made positive gains, but plenty of inequality still exists. International Women’s Day commemorates the social, political, and economic achievements of women, while focusing world attention on areas requiring further action. “Inspiring Change” was the theme of the 2014 celebration, and the goal was to encourage advocacy for women’s advancement everywhere in every way. Promoting women’s equality requires courageously challenging the status quo and vigilantly inspiring positive change. In conjunction with International Women’s Day, Microsoft profiled the work of five female employees—whose efforts are representative of the work of countless other Microsoft women—in empowering girls’ and women’s involvement in science, research, computing, and engineering.

Big Dream: encouraging girls to pursue a future in science and technology

Just two days after International Women’s Day, the fifty-eighth session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) kicked off at United Nations Headquarters in New York. CSW is a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It is the principal global policymaking body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women. This year’s CSW theme was access and participation of women and girls in education, training, science, and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work. At CSW, I had the privilege of presenting Microsoft’s Big Dream Movement—an exciting new effort to involve more girls in science and technology—on Friday, March 14, during the UN Women Session, “ICT for women’s economic empowerment and poverty alleviation.

The Big Dream Movement connects organizations, academia, and resources to girls around the world to help them pursue a future in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. The movement is anchored by Big Dream, a documentary film that follows the stories of seven young women who are breaking barriers and overcoming personal challenges to follow their passions in STEM fields. From small town Iowa to the bustling streets of the Middle East, Big Dream immerses viewers in a world designed by and for the next generation of girls. Our hope is that this inspirational film will excite young women, their families, and friends to the possibilities inherent in science and technology.

Watch the Big Dream trailer

Microsoft is pleased to be underwriting this film and to be partnering with the following organizations to make the Big Dream Movement a reality around the world: UN Women, ITU (the International Telecommunications Union), UNESCO, the European Commission, Zen Digital- DLI, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Girls Collaborative Project, the Girl Scouts, the National Center for Women in Technology, the Anita Borg Institute (ABI), ACM-W, IEEE-Women in Engineering, and Black Girls Code. We are pleased to have the following on our leadership team: Jennifer Breslin UN Women; Gary Fowler, ITU; Saniye Gülser Corat, UNESCO; Cheryl Miller, Zen Digital- DL and the EU Commission; Lucy Sanders, NCWIT; Telle Whitney, ABI; Kimberly Brant, Black Girls Code; Janice Cuny, the National Science Foundation; Karen Peterson, National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP); Kristen Grennan, Global Girls Scouts; and Valeria Barr, ACM-W.

During the UN Women Session at CSW, on behalf of Microsoft I took part in a wide-ranging discussion of what must be done to attract more women to STEM fields. Session participants agreed that it is time to change the message and help women become producers instead of consumers of technology, and to empower women to help create the solutions for the future. We encouraged the 45 member states elected by ECOSOC to participate in the Big Dream Movement. Throughout the coming year, the movement will publicize the many “best-kept secrets”—those amazing organizations, academic institutions, researchers, professors, and companies that have programs and tools to help expose women to STEM. We will also educate young women about the career possibilities and the impact they can make by pursuing careers in STEM fields.

This summer (northern hemisphere), our website, BigDreamMovement.com, will go live, providing a portal for you to learn about programs and tools that promote computing and STEM. Then, starting in the fall, we plan to show Big Dream at events all over the world. Panel discussions will follow immediately after the screening, during which local students will talk about their experiences in STEM. Local organizations will also be on hand to talk with students and parents about STEM opportunities in the community. And the aforementioned website will include a worldwide registry of organizations that provide STEM opportunities to girls, so that anyone can find local resources and programs. At the end of 2015, we will hand over all of the assets to UN Women, which will connect women around the world and keep the movement thriving through the Knowledge Gateway for Women’s Economic Empowerment.

In the meantime, we encourage you to SKYPE BigDreamMovement and leave a personal video message. If you’re a professional woman or man, describe your Big Dream and offer advice to young women wanting to pursue a future in STEM. If you’re a young woman, tell us what is your Big Dream is and how a future in STEM can help you get there.

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections

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Growing More Women in Computing in the UK

So I was honored last week to write a guest blog for the UK Software Sustainability Institute.  They are a national organization in the UK that focuses on cultivating world class research with superior software solutions.  They bring the best computer science has to offer to all of the various disciplines in the research world that needs software to empower and accelerate their research.  When speaking to their Deputy Director, Simon Hettrick, he highlighted the importance of having more women in the field and what could their organization do to highlight the challenges and enable a better environment in which women could thrive.  I was so excited to share our thoughts, the data, the research and our work with his organization.  Here is a link to the blog post- check it out.

RaneLadiesGadgeteer

Grants and Scholarships to Assist Growing More Women in Computing

As many of you know—especially if you’ve been reading my blog posts—the participation of women in computer science continues to decline. Last year, women accounted for only 14 percent of computer science college graduates in the United States, according to the Computing Research Association. That’s down from 37 percent in 1985, despite US Department of Labor statistics that show computing to be among the fastest-growing career fields, with a shortage of qualified candidates to fill available openings. In addition, studies reveal that executives value the variety of perspectives that comes with team diversity, yet another reason for needing greater female participation in computing fields.

Innovate to impact the world.

As a technology company and innovation leader, Microsoft is passionate about increasing the participation of women in computing. To do so, we must attract more female students to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs. To maintain their interest in STEM programs, we can increase young women’s exposure to the myriad opportunities in computer science and provide them with support during their undergraduate and graduate STEM studies. This is why Microsoft Research is proud to support the NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund and to fund the Microsoft Research Graduate Women’s Scholarship.
The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) is a non-profit community of more than 500 universities, companies, non-profits, and government organizations nationwide working to increase women’s participation in computing and technology. NCWIT helps organizations more effectively recruit, retain, and advance girls and women in K-12 through college education, and from academic to corporate and startup careers. The NCWIT Academic Alliance brings together nearly 750 distinguished representatives from academic computing programs at more than 275 colleges and universities across the country—spanning research universities, community colleges, women’s colleges, and minority-serving institutions. In 2007, Microsoft Research initiated the Seed Fund in partnership with NCWIT Academic Alliance. The NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund provides US academic institutions with grants (up to US$10,000 per project) to develop and implement initiatives for recruiting and retaining women in computer science and information technology fields of study. Through 2013, the Seed Fund had awarded US$465,450.
In partnership with NCWIT Academic Alliance, we are pleased to announce the 2014 winners:

  • College of St. Scholastica (Jennifer Rosato) Promoting Female and Diverse Student Retention through Faculty Use of a Growth Mindset Approach This project will provide professional development for faculty at The College of St. Scholastica, helping them to instil a growth mindset among women and minority students who are majoring in computer science and associated concentrations, as well as fostering the continued interest of students taking pre-engineering courses.
  • Georgia Gwinnett College (Sonal Dekhane, Kristine Nagel, and Nannette Napier) Georgia Gwinnett College Women in IT Boot Camp A weeklong workshop, the boot camp will give 24 promising female IT sophomores an opportunity to get a head start in programming.
  • South Carolina Technical College System (Stephanie Frazier and Salandra Bowman) SCTCS Triple A Academy The academy will immerse 10 to 14 female students—each of whom is enrolled in a certificate, diploma, or degree IT program—in a one-week program that promotes ability, acuity, and audacity (the triple As) in IT-related fields.
  • Tufts University (Benjamin Shapiro) Engaging Women in Computing through Musical Instrument and Performance This unique project will design a curriculum and an accompanying set of hardware and software tools that teach computational thinking and engineering through the design and construction of tangible, programmable electronic musical instruments that youth can use for live performances.
  • University of Arizona (Gondy Leroy and Paulo Goes) Tomorrow’s Leaders Equipped for Diversity The university’s department of management information systems (MIS) will team with industry to make computer science and MIS students aware of diversity issues, with a special focus on gender, preparing the students to be leaders and managers who are equipped to both counter the problems and leverage the benefits of diversity.

In addition, we know that a woman’s first two years of computer science graduate study are the most critical. During this time, she must determine her area of focus, increase her confidence in the field, enhance her capabilities in publishing and research, and build her network. This is why Microsoft Research created the Graduate Women’s Scholarship, which provides a US$15,000 stipend, plus a US$2,000 travel and conference allowance, to women in their second year of graduate study at a US or Canadian university. The scholarship helps recipients gain visibility in their departments, acquire mentorship, and cover the burgeoning cost of graduate programs.
We are pleased to announce the winners of the 2014 Microsoft Research Graduate Women’s Scholarship:

  • Anne Holladay, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Claire Chow, University of Notre Dame
  • Yunmeng Ban, University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Sruthi Polali, Rice University
  • Nan-Chen Chen, University of Washington
  • Ghazal Fazelnia, Columbia University
  • Tesca Fitzgerald, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Angelica Ruszkowski, University of British Columbia
  • Brooke Fugate, University of Pennsylvania
  • Elizabeth Mamantov, University of Michigan

Congratulations to all the winning programs and students. We look forward to great things from 2014’s women in computing.
Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections   Learn more

Reinventing Tech for the Next Generation of Women

Although computer science is poised for exponential job growth over the next several years, there’s a glaring lack of women entering the field. Since 1984, the number of computer science degrees awarded to women has steadily declined, to the point where today only 13 percent of computer science graduates are female.

As I speak with young women around the world, I continue to find that their disinterest stems from a lack of familiarity with the exciting and impactful career possibilities in computing. The obvious remedy is to expose more young women to the professional opportunities in computer science. This has been my personal mission, and I am pleased to be surrounded by amazing young women who evangelize computer science as a field in which women can make their mark.

she++ logoOne such “evangelist” is Microsoft intern Ayna Agarwal, a student at Stanford University. In January 2012, Ayna co-founded she++, a community that seeks to inspire women’s involvement in computer science. she++ sponsored Stanford’s first conference on women in technology in April 2012, an event that attracted more than 250 attendees and hosted a lineup of inspirational women engineers, including employees of such Bay Area tech firms as Google, Facebook, Dropbox, and Pinterest. After positive feedback from attendees, mentors, and the press, the she++ conference has become an annual event at Stanford, one of many initiatives that she++ sponsors in its effort to create momentum for female technologists.

I was extremely excited to join with Ayna to co-host Reinventing Tech for the Next Generation—she++ and Microsoft Research, on August 28. This event featured two panels: the first comprised of female interns who are on the forefront of the next generation of computer scientists, and the second consisting of top technical women from Microsoft who are driving innovation and change across the company.

Katie Doran (far left) hosts the panel of interns: Ayna Agarwal, Priya Ganesan, and Amy Lin (pictured left to right) Katie Doran (far left) hosts the panel of interns: Ayna Agarwal, Amy Lin and Priya Ganesan (pictured left to right)

You can now view the event on-demand. And while you’re in video-watching mode, you might want to take a look at the she++ documentary video and the Microsoft Research Bridging the Gender Gap video, both of which highlight  efforts to increase the presence of women in computing. In addition, I encourage all you girls (and boys) to try out these free tools that can teach you how to program and help you explore computer science: Kodu, Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer, Pex for Fun, and TouchDevelop.

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director for Education, Microsoft Research Connections

 

I was extraordinarily excited to join forces with Microsoft Research to bring together generations of female programmers to share their stories, and I hope that the on-demand video of “Reinventing Tech for the Next Generation” will expose even more young women to the tremendous possibilities in computer science.

Pictured from left to right, Ayna Argarwal, Rane Johnson, and Katie Doran led the event, “Reinventing Tech for the Next Generation.” Rane joined the event virtually with the BEAM robot.  Pictured from left to right, Ayna Argarwal, Rane Johnson, and Katie Doran led the event, “Reinventing Tech for the Next Generation.” Rane joined the event virtually with the BEAM robot.

Three years ago, I entered Stanford as a dreamer, planning to change the face of global health through veterinarian medicine. However, I soon tired of the preparatory science classes and of feeling tethered to the vet hospital. I still wanted to have big impact on the world, but I wasn’t sure how.

Then I took my first computer science class and fell in love with the problem-solving mindset. Moreover, I soon realized that technology had the ability to touch the lives of millions, offering new communication and productivity tools and entertaining toys, serving as a means to unravel the biggest crimes, providing protection via mobile phones in developing countries—the possibilities are endless.

I became convinced that the full potential of tech is yet to be discovered. Yet a couple months prior to that first class, I had no idea that computer science was even a discipline, or that large companies and startups were built entirely around bringing technology to life. I had never even conceived of the possibilities.

I realized that my ignorance about computer science derived in large measure from the lack of role models sharing their stories. So I created she++ to be a community of voices of those technologists: the ones who are breaking the boundaries and incorporating their interests into the field.

she++ soon evolved into a personal mission to embolden and enrich the possibility of technology. I aim to provide an inspiration for all types of people, with every interest, encouraging them to take a peek and enroll in their first programming class. The future of the world lies in tech, and we need more people, with unique perspectives, than we’re training today to work in the industry. I hope that the joint Microsoft Research and she++ event entices girls everywhere to take their first programming class—and to realize they can have big impact in this world with technology.

—Ayna Agarwal, student at Stanford University and summer intern at Microsoft

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Fun with programming

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