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Manzanar Virtual Tour and boondocking in Alabama Hills & Death Valley

As you head to Death Valley from Alabama Hills Recreation Area you will drive past Manzanar National Historic Site on highway 395 in California.  First off, you must stop by Alabama Hills it is an outdoors person and rock climbers dream!  So many amazing rock formations, places to climb and hike and all for free.  The best boondocking ever!  We can also recommend free camping at WildRose in Death Valley.  It is a very long drive to this campground, skinny road and very windy (we would not recommend any rigs bigger than 30 feet to attempt) that only has picnic tables, fire rings, a vault toilet and potable water but it is on your way to seeing the WildRose Charcoal Kilns, (the road is gravel and pretty rough) which are pretty cool and a nice hike to Wildrose Peak that is about 8 miles roundtrip.  We went in winter time/early spring so it was quite cool (temperature that is). If you can get in, we’d rather recommend staying at Texas Spring Campground it is a good central location, much warmer, prettier and better facilities but costs $16/night.  Now back to Manzanar…

Being an Asian American, I had to stop and visit the WW2 relocation center and I highly recommend stopping for a self-guided tour.  It is very well done and reminds us of the atrocities we faced in this country during fears of war and people who looked different and had a different cultural background.  In 1942, the United States government ordered more than 100,000 men, women, and children to leave their homes and detained them in remote, military-style camps like the Manzanar War Relocation Center which was one of ten camps where Japanese American citizens were incarcerated during World War II.  People of Japanese decent who were US citizens from across this country lost all their possessions, dignity and were forced into these Relocation Centers. 

A little history course for folks who may not be aware.  Relocation isn’t new in the history of Manzanar and the Owens Valley. We can’t forget that the Paiute and early settlers as well as Japanese Americans all were uprooted from their homes. American Indians began utilizing the valley almost 10,000 years ago. About 1,500 years ago the Owens Valley Paiute established settlements here. They hunted, fished, collected pine nuts, and practiced a form of irrigated agriculture.  Miners and ranchers moved into the valley in the early 1860s and homesteaded Paiute lands raising cattle, sheep, fruit, wheat, and other crops. The military were called in and forcibly relocated nearly 1,000 Owens Valley Paiute to Fort Tejon in 1863. Many Paiute returned to the Owens valley and worked on the local ranches.

The town of Manzanar—the Spanish word for “apple orchard”—developed as an agricultural settlement beginning in 1910. Farmers grew apples, pears, peaches, potatoes, and alfalfa on several thousand acres surrounding the town. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began acquiring water rights in the valley in 1905 and completed the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913. Land buyouts continued in the 1920s, and by 1929 Los Angeles owned all of Manzanar’s land and water rights. Within five years, the town was abandoned. In the 1930s local residents pinned their economic hopes on tourism. With the onset of World War II tourism diminished.  Then in 1942 the U.S. Army leased 6,200 acres at Manzanar from Los Angeles to hold Japanese Americans during World War II. Though some valley residents opposed the construction of the internment camp, others helped build it and worked there.

First, we walked through the mini museum that is very well done and tells the stories of the families that lived here during the WW2 internment.  There is a 3.2-mile self-guided auto tour where you can see the original sentry posts, Block 14 buildings, mess hall, women’s latrine and barracks, the cemetery monument, remnants of the administrative complex, rock gardens, parks, orchards, the hospital grounds, the uncovered foundations of the Children’s Village  which was the only orphanage of the ten War Relocation Centers in the US.  In the museum, you will find images Ansel Adams took in late 1943 where he acknowledges the prejudices and fears that led the U.S. government to confine American citizens and legal immigrants of Japanese ethnicity behind barbed wire.

From the website, I wanted to provide you more details on what is still on the property and what you will encounter in the video.

Mess Hall: The US Army constructed this mess hall at Bishop Air Base in 1942. The National Park Service moved it to Manzanar in 2002 and eventually restored it. It is identical to the 36 mess halls that together produced over 28 million meals here from 1942 to 1945. Walk through the kitchen, sit at the picnic benches, and learn about the logistics and politics of food in Manzanar.

Women’s Latrine: The women’s latrine was reconstructed in 2017. The communal shower and rows of toilets depict some of the harsh realities of living at Manzanar. Overcrowding led to long lines, unpleasant odors, and an extreme lack of privacy.

Barracks Buildings: The two barracks buildings were rebuilt in 2015 with exhibits being added in the following years. The four barracks exhibits will tell you about arrival to Manzanar, the importance of the Block Manager’s Office, the loyalty questionnaire, school at Manzanar, and more.

Cemetery: In 1943 the people in Manzanar decided to erect a monument to honor their dead and skilled stonemason Ryozo Kado was recruited to supervise the work. The cemetery serves as a poignant reminder that some of the 10,000 Japanese Americans incarcerated at Manzanar never saw freedom again. Over 145 Japanese Americans died while confined in Manzanar during World War II. Many were cremated, in the Buddhist tradition, and some were sent to their home towns for burial. Fifteen people were buried in a small plot of land just outside the camp’s security fence. When Manzanar War Relocation Center closed, the families of nine of the deceased removed the remains of their loved ones for reburial elsewhere. In 1999, NPS archeologists confirmed that five burials remain at the site. The three characters on the front (east side) of the cemetery monument literally translate as “soul consoling tower” ( I REI TO ). The inscriptions were written by a Manzanar Buddhist priest, Shinjo Nagatomi.

Merritt Park: The people incarcerated at Manzanar left a lasting legacy by creating more than 100 Japanese gardens. The largest of the gardens was Merritt Park, named for the camp director, Ralph P. Merritt. Merritt Park served as community refuge from the hardships of camp. After Manzanar closed in 1945, many of the gardens disappeared as debris from demolished barracks, sand, and vegetation covered them. Recent archeological excavations have uncovered and stabilized some of these gardens including Merritt Park. Today you can view what’s left of this symbol of beauty and the resilience of the human spirit.

Japanese Garden Tour: Private and community gardens covered much of the Manzanar landscape. For many people, these rock gardens and pools served as a source of peace and an escape from their incarceration experience. Today, eleven of the over 100 Japanese gardens have been uncovered and stabilized.

The location was beautiful but also a sad reminder about how we treated fellow Americans.  It makes you sad to see how people were forced to live and were ripped from all their loved ones and their belongings because of a war.   How our fears caused us to overlook people who were citizens and part of our community and treated them like they were enemies because of their former homeland that they had left for a new life in the USA.  Perhaps, it is a reminder about how we can do better in the present and future generations of immigrant people.  We hope you enjoy watching our virtual tour.   

The Joy of Art, Music, Crafting and Gifting to Heal the Type A Brain

After my seventh concussion and being diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury, as stated in my last two blogs, I began to take my injury more seriously and knew I needed to make a change in my life.  My emotions were on a roller coaster ride.  One minute I would be happy, then next my husband would say something and I was ready to pummel him in rage and then the next I would be crying hysterically like a toddler having a temper tantrum. Not only were my emotions wreaking havoc in my life but my memory, word searching, attention span, reasoning and problem-solving skills were like a child.

Since I had been told by my neurologist to not read, go online or watch TV, I needed to do something to occupy my time and get healthy.  To go from having 15 hours scheduled by the minute to no schedule was utter maddening.  You can only spend so much of your day meditating, doing yoga, going for hikes/walks and cooking. I was still struggling to occupy my days and I wasn’t ready to see very many people other than my closest of friends.  My godfather and mother came over for a visit and she taught me to knit. I became a knitting fool.  Making scarves, hats, shawls for everyone I knew.

My sister-in-law gave me a nail art kit for my birthday and soon I was making everyone wood nail art deer, owls, ravens and landscape pieces.  I also thought it was time to do something with the bags and bags of wine corks I had collected and made these wooden and cork hot pot holders for dining room tables and cork boards. That Christmas everyone got a Rane original creation!  I was becoming a crafting aficionado and enjoying the smiles on people’s faces as they got something made by me.  I was getting a little over zealous with my knitting and I think I made everyone I knew something, that my husband suggested isn’t there other art therapies or maybe even music therapies I could try?

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One of the many shawls I created for friends.

I then remembered with the work I was doing before I went on medical leave from Microsoft regarding helping military veterans reskill and get jobs in technology. There was research on art and music therapy helping military veterans with traumatic brain injury.  I thought if it could work for them, it may possibly work for me.  I couldn’t read the research reports to understand the details and unfortunately scholarly reviewed publications are not on digital audio yet, (perhaps, someone should really look into that.)  So, I went to my psychologist and asked what types of art and music therapy I should try. This would occupy more of my day, give my monkey mind a part-time job and hopefully start helping my cognitive impairments. He suggested I start first with the adult coloring books and listening to classical music.

Once, I was able to read again I began to learn what art and music therapy can really do for you.  In the last ten years, there has been significant progress in the study of TBI and art/music therapies.” Biomedical researchers have found that music is a highly structured auditory language involving complex perception, cognition, and motor control in the brain, and thus it can effectively be used to retrain and reeducate the injured brain.”

I also learned that listening to “polyphonic music has shown to engage neural circuits underlying multiple forms of working memory, attention, semantic processing, target detection, and motor imagery, in turn indicating that music listening engages brain areas that are involved in general functions rather than music-specific areas.”  A good example of polyphonic music is this old Sting classic, I love this YouTube rendition.

In addition to listening to music, I took it a step further and have been teaching myself to play the acoustic guitar. Through other books, I learned the importance of dancing and singing every day to my favorite song and how that help grow the strength in my vagus nerve (As my earlier blog stated, I learned my vagus nerve was having issues and was the reason for my blacking out and causing all my concussions and traumatic brain injury).

My poor husband would have to listen to me belt out at the top of my lungs ‘Dancing Queen’ by ABBA or ‘It’s a Beautiful Day’ by U2 or ‘Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison and the list goes on and on.  I started rubbing off on my friends and they would text me their dance out song of the day.  You should try it; your whole body get a rush of endorphins and total jubilation once your done with a grin a mile long and your spouse laughing hysterically at you.

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My first set of paintings on display at Chow Restaurant in Bend, Oregon.

I was starting to get bored with my adult coloring books from Costco.  When I was at the Newport Visual Arts Center, looking at the latest show there was a bunch of people painting with watercolors on the second floor.  As I walked in, I found out they had received a grant that allowed them to give free art classes every day for the community and I was invited in to try.  So for the rest of the Summer, every week I attended the water color class, pottery class, pastel class, coloring pencil class, and acrylic painting class. Soon, I was able to read again, I learned through Psychology Today that art therapists, “McGuinness and Schnur worked with TBI patients and they explain the salient roles of art therapy in addressing various parts of the brain with clients in a user-friendly way.”

They also state that, “art therapy can help with organization, problem solving, and memory when the frontal lobes have been affected by TBI.”  I then started concentrating on acrylic painting as my favorite form of painting.  And thanks to my friends Lisa and Amy, who one day said, “Hey Rane, you are actually getting good- you should sell your art!”  To my utter amazement, a local restaurant wanted me to show my art and by January 2018 I had sold 12 pieces.

Filling my days with painting, listening and playing music my energy, emotions and memory were improving. The hardest part of my TBI has been moving from a super positive always happy demeanor that rarely ever got mad to this uncontrollable rage that pops up from just a little comment could set me off.  If anything can calm this new emotion, I am happy to do it.  I am lucky my husband is understanding and can deal with these moments that happen several times a month.  My days are now packed with art, music, yoga, mediation and the outdoors. I highly encourage everyone, even those who may not have traumatic brain injury the power of adding more art, music or crafting in your life.  A lot of the research highlights how it can help slow and possibly stop Alzheimer.  Here are a few of my favorite beginner Youtube videos to get you started with music, art and knitting, I hope you try-  I promise you will have fun!

 

Innovating for the future: second annual International Women’s Hackathon

Well, here it is: I am pleased to announce that our second annual International Women’s Hackathon will take place on university campuses around the globe from April 24 to 27, 2014. Last year’s event spanned 14 campuses in seven countries, with more than 600 university women participating. We’re anticipating even bigger numbers this year!

Women in computing matters—International Women's Hackathon

We launched the International Women’s Hackathon to encourage, support, and retain women pursuing the computer sciences at the university level. This event, largely promoted by word-of-mouth, empowers young women to become leaders in computer science, informatics, and electrical engineering. By providing a fun and safe environment in which to explore computing, the hackathon encourages and supports young university women around the world, preparing them to create technology innovations that will help meet worldwide challenges in such areas as improving healthcare, protecting the environment, and upgrading manufacturing.
The presence of women in technology is essential to innovation. When confronted with a problem, we each encode our perspectives and then apply our particular heuristics to explore new and better resolutions. Diverse teams often outperform homogeneous teams (even those composed of high-achieving individuals), because diversity of perspective and problem-solving approach trumps individual ability. Research has identified the diversity of work teams as one of the key influences in the innovation process—and without question, a diverse team needs women.
As I travel around campuses, I hear the same concerns repeatedly from women in computer science courses:

  • Male classmates underestimate their technical abilities and relegate them to project management roles in group projects.
  • There is a lack of women on the computer science faculty, which leaves them feeling that they have no good role models.
  • They question whether they can fulfill their desire to solve big challenges by working in a field that seems to discount their talents.

This is why the International Women’s Hackathon is so important. It provides an opportunity for female students to demonstrate their technical chops and unique problem-solving approaches. To ensure that this year’s hackathon meets the needs of university women, we have enlisted the help of recent winners of the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing. These gifted young women have helped us organize the challenges, reassess the rules and regulations, and upgrade the toolkit. So here’s a big thank you to the leads and planning committee members:
Leads:

  • Halie Murray-Davis, Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering
  • Jinisha Patel, New Jersey Institute of Technology
  • Safia Abdalla, Northside College Preparatory High School

Committee members:

  • Ashika Ganesh, West Windsor Plainsboro High School North
  • Aishwarya Borkar, San Jose State University
  • Diem-Nhi Tran, University of Texas at Dallas
  • Heather Huynh, University of Georgia
  • Kylie Moden, Trinity University
  • Nishtha Oberai, University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Veronica Wharton, Rochester Institute of Technology

The hackathon provides an opportunity for female students to demonstrate their technical chops and unique problem-solving approaches. The hackathon provides an opportunity for female students to demonstrate their technical chops and unique problem-solving approaches.

We are excited to have this year’s challenges sponsored by the following nonprofits: UN Women, Hindsight Group, Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, and Teens Against Distracted Driving. Hackathon participants will design a software application that meets one of two challenges: (1) increase women’s participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors, or (2) put a halt to texting while driving.
I am also pleased to announce our partnership with the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. We will be front and center during the festival, with women students from local universities hacking live on stage while we connect via Skype to the hackathon events taking place on university campuses all over the world.
I will announce more information about the hackathon in January, including details on special speakers and unique events, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I hope that many of you will take advantage of this opportunity: you can organize teams and register for the event now.
Rane Johnson-Stempson, Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections
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World Kindness Day- Practice Random Acts of Kindness This Week

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelo

Today is World Kindness Day.   It was introduced in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement, a group of nation kindness NGOs.   Many countries like Canada, Japan, Australia, Nigeria, UK, India, Italy, United Arab Emirates and Singapore officially observe the day.   On this day, there are many events celebrated like: THE BIG HUG, handing out Kindness Cards, Global Flashmob, which was coordinated by Orly Wahba from USA which was held in 15 countries and 33 cities with its images of the event making the big screens in New York City.  Even though we don’t officially observe the day in the United States, I wanted to take the time for us to pause and think about kindness.

Maya Angelo has my favorite quote that I usually kick off every presentation I do  and daily I try to make sure every person I come in to contact with feels valued, important, cared about and their opinion matters.   Sometimes the grind of everyday life we forget the importance so slowing down and saying hello to our neighbor, our cubical mate next door or how the last conversation made the person you were interacting with feel. With all you hear on the news is the world today is full of dysfunction, conflict, and disasters its hard to stay positive or think there is any kindness left.  But what we can count on is inherently we are kind people and there is a lot of kindness in the world.  The Giving USA 2013 report was released in July. The good news is that the total contributions in 2012 increased to $316.23 billion. According to the report, the specific increases are:

  • 3.5% increase in total estimated U.S. charitable giving
  • 3.9% increase in giving by individuals
  • 4.4% increase in giving by foundations
  • 12.2% increase in giving by corporations

As a country we are one of the most giving people when it comes to people’s time, talent and money.  I was honored to participate in our Microsoft Annual Giving Campaign where employees supported over 18,000 organizations and raised over $94 million and by the end of the calendar year should reach $108 million.  Kindness is not just about giving money and time to organizations but its also about how we make each other feel.  Research has shown that if you feel appreciated, valued, kindness from your boss and fellow peers you will be more productive and happy.  Check out this great Ted Talk by Shawn Achor- http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work.html to get you in the mood to be more kind today.

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You can still have a virtual hug!  Continue to be kind.

Working for a technology company,  having the ability to work remotely and taking advantage of the latest gadgets is fantastic.  But it also requires us to think about our personal in-person interactions even more, since they are so few.  Today, we are constantly online and engaged in virtual conversations. We tend to feel more comfortable sending an email than walking down the corridor to talk to a colleague or pick up the phone. I don’t know how many times I have been in a restaurant and seeing couples and children with their parents texting each other than talking.  As wonderful as Facebook, Skype and Twitter keep us in touch and up to date on the latest happenings in life, they also take away from that personal engagement and that feeling of appreciation and love we have for each other.  Nothing beats a conversation with an old friend that you haven’t talked to in a longtime or when you meet a person for the first time in a coffee shop and strike up a great conversation and feel that instant connection.

One of the things I love to do each week is just one random act of kindness like buying a cup of coffee for the next person in line, getting a meal for a homeless person, or volunteering to help grade papers for a teacher at the local school.  Too many times we over think and make doing something nice too much work to include in our busy lives.  One of the website I love that can give you great ideas: http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/. Check it out and try something.  Also, another  great Ted Talk to get you in the mood today and this week: http://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_zittrain_the_web_is_a_random_act_of_kindness.html.

Lastly, I want to leave you with 10 things you can do today to participate in World Kindness Day:

  • Show someone you know gratitude- send him/her a quick email to thank him/her or pick up the phone and call him/her or better yet get him/her a coffee and tell him/her why you are grateful to know him/her
  • Replace judgment, no one likes to be judged
  • Walk in someone else’s shoes and try to understand where they are coming from
  • Hold back criticism and try encouragement
  • Recall how someone made you feel really good and what can you do in return
  • Surprise someone you know with a kind note
  • Turn off your devices tonight and have a conversation with your significant other or children
  • Write down 10 things you are thankful about and if you listed any person, let him/her know
  • Do one random act of kindness for someone you don’t know today
  • Give yourself a break and be kinder to yourself, we are our worse critic.  Appreciate the great work you do.

Have a wonderful World Kindness Day and Pay it Forward!

Hopeful for the Future for Women in Computing

Sitting on a plane heading back to the Pacific Northwest, I’m reflecting on the week I just spent in Minneapolis—a week of inspiration and impact at the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Women in Computing. I’m thinking about the pertinence of this year’s GHC theme, “Think Big, Drive Forward,” and how our 260-strong contingent of Microsoft employees carried that message forward. Wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the word “Innovator,” my fellow Softies and I strove to support and inspire the next generation of women computer scientists.

Aspirations in Computing Dinner Celebration at Grace Hopper. Aspirations in Computing Dinner Celebration at Grace Hopper.

It was invigorating to hear from Microsoft leaders Julie Larson-Green and Jacky Wright, as they, along with Maria Klawe, a Microsoft board member and president of Harvey Mudd College, informed conference attendees about career paths, technical leadership, and the future of women at Microsoft. Seeing young professionals’ eyes light up upon hearing that women comprise 29 percent of our senior leadership team, I could sense a renewed interest in careers at Microsoft.

Microsoft’s senior technical women and executives also held closed-door sessions for the company’s GHC attendees, encouraging them to drive their careers forward and be the new spirit of our company. This message took on even greater resonance, among both the Microsoft and general attendees, when it was announced that Microsoft had just been named the most inspiring American company by Forbes magazine.

While such accolades are great, we know that for our company to continue to lead technological innovations and succeed in our transformative vision of “One Microsoft,” we will need more gender diversity on our research teams. Moreover, we can build those diverse teams only if the female talent is available, which means that we need to increase the number of women who are pursuing advanced degrees in computer science. We need to take direct action, like that of my fellow researchers—A. J. Brush, Jaeyeon Jung, Jaime Teevan, and Kathryn McKinley—who spent the conference helping PhD attendees prepare their poster presentations, find their dream jobs, publish their research, and pursue career opportunities.

But attracting more women to computing is an enormous task, one that is beyond the capabilities of any one company alone. Fortunately, the country’s top computer science institutions have banned together in the National Center for Women & Information Technology Academic Alliance (NCWIT AA), a broad partnership that includes academic, nonprofit, government, and industry members. These institutions will help us truly grow the pipeline of women innovators, which is why Microsoft Research is pleased to offer them project start-up assistance through the MSR NCWIT AA Seed Fund. The seed funds are designated for initiatives that recruit and retain women in computing and IT.

My favorite part of the conference is spending time with the winners of the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Award. This award recognizes female high school students who have the potential to become amazing computer scientists. These young women run summer camps to excite middle school girls about computer science through Aspire IT. We were excited to support this year’s camp leaders with Surface devices and Kodu Touch, which exposed young women to game development. On Wednesday we hosted a special session with past winners and Microsoft executives, and on Friday night we honored 60 winners across the United States at meet-up sessions in 12 of our Microsoft retail stores.

Pictured from left to right: Kinect aspiration winner Rochelle Willard from USC, Rane Johnson and Rico Malvar from Microsoft Research.Pictured from left to right: Kinect aspiration winner Rochelle Willard from USC with Rane Johnson-Stempson and Rico Malvar from Microsoft Research.

On Saturday, we ended the conference by challenging attendees to “think big and drive forward” change in disaster response during the Grace Hopper Open Source Day. Free and open source software (FOSS) usage is becoming widespread, but learning how to contribute to an existing FOSS project or to release a new open source application can be daunting. Open Source Day enabled participants to spend time coding for an existing FOSS project or to get help starting their own community-developed software project. Our Microsoft Disaster Response Team led a group of young women working to create open source applications for disaster response.

This year’s GHC inspired not only me, but 4,600 other attendees, exciting us all to change the future of technology and women in computing. If every attendee would encourage and mentor just one budding female computer scientist, we could almost double the number women studying computer science today at US universities. I am extremely optimistic we will make a difference, and I can’t wait to see the technology innovations that women will drive.

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

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Hopping to Minneapolis to celebrate women in computing

impact    Going to a major conference is always fun. It’s an opportunity to see old friends and make new ones, to network with experts, and to be exposed to fresh ideas and trends. All those benefits hold true for the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) for Women in Computing, the Anita Borg Institute’s annual conference on women’s roles in computing. But for me, GHC is meaningful for another reason: it’s an opportunity for Microsoft in general—and Microsoft Research in particular—to focus on growing and retaining women in computer science and engineering. That’s why I am so pleased that more than 260 of my fellow “Softies”—including 9 executives and 22 women who will speak or lead at conference events—are joining me at GHC. This strong presence enables us to reach out to women at every stage of their technology career development, from students through established professionals, and to demonstrate Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and innovation in computing.

And make no mistake: such commitment is sorely needed. Women’s share of US computer occupations declined to 27 percent in 2011 after reaching a high of 34 percent in 1990. The US Department of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2018 there will be 1.4 million open technology jobs in the United States. At the current rate of students graduating with degrees in computer science, only 61 percent of those openings will be filled—and only 29 percent of applicants will be women.

The need is all the more critical when you consider that the latest advances in improving healthcare, protecting the environment, and upgrading manufacturing have come from technological innovations. At Microsoft Research, we recognize that such technology breakthroughs require teams that are sufficiently diverse to anticipate, respond to, and serve the needs of a changing world.

To bolster women’s participation in computing, we believe in a multipronged approach based on broad industry and academic partnerships. This approach builds exposure to computer science at an early age and supports women during undergraduate and graduate studies in computer science. Equally important, it promotes collaborations with the top women researchers and rising stars, such as the work I’m presently doing with Constance Steinkuehler of the University Wisconsin-Madison and Tiffany Barnes of North Carolina State University. We are researching the impact of exposing female middle school and high school students to computer science through an online community that teaches computational thinking via game design. In addition, Microsoft Research collaborates closely with Ruthe Farmer at the National Center for Women in Technology in the Aspirations in Computing and the Aspire IT programs. Constance, Tiffany, and Ruthe will speak in greater detail about these projects during my session on Innovative Solutions in Attracting More Women in Computing at GHC.

As part of our industry sponsorship, Microsoft is supporting 35 GHC scholarships. In addition, Julie Larson-Green, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Devices and Studios division, will be a mentor at the Senior Women’s Networking Lunch, and Jacky Wright, vice president of Microsoft Strategic Enterprise Services, will be speaking at and sponsoring the Women of Color Luncheon.

airstream

At the Microsoft Research booth—an Airstream trailer—GHC participants can check out the latest devices and learn about opportunities at Microsoft. If you’re attending Grace Hopper, whatever your professional affiliation or career stage, please stop by our booth (an Airstream trailer decked out with the latest devices) to learn about opportunities at Microsoft. Be sure to take part in our scavenger hunt—which offers Xbox and Kinect prizes—and the Dance-Off Challenge at the closing party we co-sponsor with Google each year. Through partnerships with businesses, organizations, and individuals, we hope to grow the next generation of women in computing. Let’s bridge the gap to future innovation together, through diversity and creativity!

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

 

Concussion puts making a difference on pause

Hi folks, it has been a longtime since I have posted a blog and been online due to a concussion I had on February 23, 2013. I would like to take the time to help people understand concussions better and they are not something to ignore!

As the typical Rane, who thinks she is a robot that is indestructible, I got up from the 2 foot diameter puddle of blood on my hardwood floor and begun to tell my husband everything is just fine at 2 in the morning, as he thought someone was breaking into our home and kicking down our back door from the loud boom of me hitting the floor.  He cleaned me up (thank you Greg) and as I ran to the toilet to hurl a few times, I tried to convince him I was fine and we should just go to bed.  After keeping me a wake for a long while and ensuring I was not going to go to sleep and never wake up.   (for those who do not know, if you go to sleep after a concussion you have a good chance of not waking up again, so don’t do it!) He finally let me go back to sleep and head to the emergency room in the morning.   In the morning, I was ready to ignore the hospital idea and  jump on another plane and fly off to go change the world and grow women computer scientists.  My husband forced me to slow down, head to the emergency room and ensure everything was okay before I take on my next activity.  There, I found out I needed 9 stitches and that I had a concussion and should stay home and not do anything for the next few days.   I did not realize the sensitivity of your brain and continued on as business as usual, ignoring the doctor.  DO NOT DO THIS FOLKS!!!  I ended up making myself worse and could have healed a lot faster if I would have listened to him in the first place.

 Women Hack to solve Human Trafficking issuesI raced to the airport and headed to our first ever International Women’s Hackathon being launched in 7 countries and 14 locations around the world.  (Thanks to my husband driving me, later I would find out that I would not be able to drive for five months due to my lack of balance, memory and vision.)   It was a fantastic hackathon with over 600 young women all over the world programming to make a difference in proactively helping victims of human trafficking.  I on the other hand was not doing well with blurred vision, massive migraine headache and coming close to blacking out a few times.  I continued to move forward and then head to the Michigan Women in Computing Conference where I was the keynote speaker.  When I got about half way across the United States, my brain felt like it was going to explode and about 100 knives were being stabbed in my head.  I arrived in not too good shape but was taken good care of by the Michigan State University Team (thanks Laurie Dillon).  I gave the keynote and then flew back to Bend, OR to go get a CT Scan and MRI.  I then found out I had post-concussive syndrome (PCS) and if you don’t listen to your body you can’t try to solve the world’s greatest problems in computing because you have to focus on your health.  I knew nothing about PCS.

Post-concussive syndrome (PCS) is a set of symptoms that continues for weeks, months or even a year or more post a concussion.  It is a mild form of traumatic brain injury resulting in migraine headaches, difficulty concentrating, chemical imbalances in the brain, vision challenges, emotional and behavioral issues.  There is no treatment for PCS symptoms can only be treated  by medications, physical, vision and behavioral therapy and time.  In my appointment with the doctor, I could not balance on one foot, I failed memory tests and I was in the most excruciating pain from a migraine headache.  I learned I would now need to stop working, no more television, no more smartphone, no more computer, no more reading, I couldn’t drive, no more wine, no more caffeine and that I MUST REST– no ands ifs or buts.  For the first week, I could do nothing but lay in bed and then the next five months would result in only walks with my dog, listening to books on CD and knitting.  I spent the next four months with a migraine headache 24 hours a day 7 days a week.   My vision tracking dropped to a level of an 8-year-old.   If I had listened to the doctor in the first place it could have resulted in only a few weeks of recovery instead of five months.  DO NOT IGNORE doctor’s advice when you have a concussion it is serious!

I then got to spent the next four months spending time with three different doctors to try and get back to normal.  Learn to mediate, relax and calm the mind- an impossible endeavor for a Type A person.  I was surprised to learn there is still so much we don’t know about concussions and a lot of it is still a guessing game.  It also made me realize how illogical we humans are when it comes to our brain.  When we break an arm and leg we know we must rest it, not use it and give it recovery time, but with our brains we don’t ever rest it.  When you hurt your brain it needs to rest.  Resting your brain means no visual stimulation, no mental stimulation, plenty of sleep and rest, meditation is critical and necessary to heal.  Learning to slow down was very difficult but critical for me to finally heal and be able to go back to work.  Once I could read again, a few interesting books and research I read that may be interest to you, to help you through the siiutation if you get a concussion:

So now that it is all said and done and I am back to work, what I am I doing to ensure I don’t re-injure myself or what have I learned from this experience that may help other TYPE As or folks who have a concussion?

  • When your body needs to rest, if you won’t rest, it will force you to rest.
  • Life is too short to ignore your health and if you’re not healthy you can’t solve all the world’s greatest problems.
  • Your brain needs the same respect, rest and support you give any body part you sprain or break.
  • You can’t ignore the importance of work-life balance.
  • Don’t put work, volunteerism before family because in the end all you have is your family! (Thank you Greg, Pam, Gordon, Anne and Claudia for helping me through the last 5 months!)
  • Your not as important as you think you are, the world will move on, work will get accomplished and people will get things to work even when you aren’t around.  (Thank you to my amazing co-workers who stepped up and took so much of my work on!)
  • What you think must get done yesterday, can wait till tomorrow, even a few months.
  • Sometimes working slow is much better than multi-tasking and working fast!  (READ THE SLOW FIX!)
  • Lastly, I have a three-legged stool.  One represents global impact, one represents local impact and the last my family and self.  They must be in balance or I will fall off the stool.  If projects, opportunities & relationships don’t keep the three legs in balance then I must learn to say NO when one leg begins to become too long.  You can’t have a leg too long or you will fall off your chair.  It’s okay to say no, sometimes it is even expected!

I am truly happy to be back and I hope you look forward to the many blogs to come this year as I continue my passion to grow more women in computing!  At the same time I hope this blog helps you to take time to stop and smell the roses and take care of yourselves as you go on and take on so many challenges in your lives.

Innovators Wanted-Help The President!

I WANT YOU…. Anyone who grew up in the United States, as I did, is familiar with the famous World War II recruiting poster of Uncle Sam exhorting young Americans to enlist in the armed forces. (No, I wasn’t alive then, but the poster is an icon.)

I WANT YOU Uncle Sam Poster

 

Well, Uncle Sam is calling again, not for men and women under arms, but for recent graduates, top researchers, and great innovators—in short, for creative young people who want to be agents of change in the digital world. On February 5, the White House announced round 2 of the Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program, a unique effort that brings incredibly talented go-getters from the private sector to work for 6 to 12 months with top government innovators to solve challenges of national importance. PIF projects are selected based on their potential to save lives, save taxpayer money, and fuel job growth.

Presidential Innovation Fellows

I am pleased to be working with the Office of Science and Technology Policy Team (OSTP) in helping to announce this second round of Presidential Innovation Fellowships, especially since the program complements my passion—familiar to regular readers of this blog—to grow the number of women and minorities in computing. The inaugural round of 18 Presidential Innovation Fellows worked on five projects and did a fantastic job, but, astonishingly, the group lacked diversity, even though the United States is renowned as a “melting pot” of cultural and ethnic diversity. For round 2, the OSTP wants to do a better job of reaching a diverse audience.

This second round of the PIF program include nine projects:

Disaster Response and Recovery: Collaboratively building and “pre-positioning” needed tech tools ahead of future emergencies or natural disasters, in order to mitigate economic damage and save lives.

MyUSA: Simplifying the process of finding and accessing information and government services that are right for you. Helping US businesses access the information and services that will help them grow, hire US workers, and export to foreign markets.

RFP-EZ and Innovative Contracting Tools: Making it easier for the US government to do business with small, high-growth tech companies, and enabling the government to buy better, lower-cost tech solutions from the full range of US businesses.

Cyber-Physical Systems: Working with government and industry to create standards for a new generation of interoperable, dynamic, and efficient “smart systems”—an “industrial Internet”—that combines distributed sensing, control, and data analytics to help grow new high-value US jobs and the economy.

Open Data Initiatives: Accelerating and expanding efforts to make government information resources more publicly accessible in “computer-readable” form and spurring the use of those data by entrepreneurs as fuel for the creation of new products, services, and jobs.

MyData Initiatives: Empowering the people of the United States with secure access to their own personal health, energy, and education data.

Innovation Toolkit: Developing an innovation toolkit that empowers the US federal workforce to respond to national priorities more quickly and more efficiently.

21st Century Financial Systems: Moving financial accounting systems of US federal agencies out of the era of unwieldy agency-specific implementations to one that favors more nimble, modular, scalable, and cost-effective approaches.

Development Innovation Ventures: Enabling the US government to identify, test, and scale breakthrough solutions to the world’s toughest problems.

If you are looking for an opportunity to make a difference, here is a chance to influence millions of lives by thinking outside of the box and building truly innovative solutions. Presidential Innovation Fellows have a unique chance to serve their country and influence change on a truly massive scale. The White House will be accepting applications from February 5 through March 17, looking to put together dynamic, diverse, and innovative project teams that will produce tremendous results for the residents of the United States.

PIF applicants need not have deep technical programming skills; rather, they require an ability to think creatively, be an agent for change, and to recognize opportunities where technology can solve problems. I am asking all of you in the academic community to reach out to recent graduates and alumni that you believe can influence positive change and envision innovative solutions. And don’t count yourself out, as this could be the sabbatical of a lifetime. If you are interested in learning more and applying, please visit Presidential Innovation Fellows.

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

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Women across the world Hack to help victims of Human Trafficking

According to the Department of Justice, 40 percent of all human trafficking incidents opened for investigation between January 2008 and June 2010 were for sexual trafficking of a child. The majority of these children who are bought and sold for sex are girls between the ages of 12 and 14. Eighty-three percent of victims in confirmed sex trafficking incidents were identified as U.S. citizens.

The Internet is playing a central role in the rising numbers of American children sold for sex. With the Internet, the trafficker and the buyer have full anonymity and discretion in their sale and purchase of the child.

Given that Internet technology is being used for exploitation and trafficking, how might the tools and opportunities of the Internet also be used for the protection and defense of victims? How might a victim of trafficking be able to access the Internet to find her freedom?

This is one of four questions that students at university campuses around the world—including University of Washington, University of Southern California, University of Texas at Austin, Iowa State University, Colorado School of Mines, University of Sindh in Pakistan, University of Melbourne in Australia and universities in Colombia, Brazil, and Kenya—will have an opportunity to answer when they participate in the first-ever, international women-only hackathon this weekend, February 22–24.

Sponsored by Microsoft Research Connections, Microsoft Imagine Cup, the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), the Association for Computing Machinery Committee on Women in Computing (ACM-W), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Women in Engineering (IEEE-W) and Skype, the International Women’s Hackathon is a crowdsourcing event aimed at helping young women feel confident about their computer science capabilities and excited by opportunities to solve global problems. Young women will have the opportunity to create mobile, web, and social media applications as well as games to help support social issues related to women. Young women will be able to be the innovators to support three great nonprofit organizations: FAIR Girls, HumanRights4Girls and the Hindsight Group.

Bridge the Gap Video

As the Principal Research Director in Microsoft Research Connections, I focus on how we grow more women and under-represented groups in computing. For Microsoft to be the most innovative company driving technology innovations for the next 10 years and into the future, we must have diverse teams solving the world’s greatest problems by using computing. When I look back to my college experience as a mechanical engineering student taking courses in electrical and computer science engineering, I remember looking for opportunities that would enable me to make bigger impact in the world. I remember myself and my fellow women engineers looking for research opportunities that would enable us to solve more global problems and problems that also related to social issues. That is why I got involved in robotics and mechanical limbs research.

Now, 15 years later, I see the same themes as I visit campuses in the United States, Korea, and various European countries. As I Skype with young women from the Middle East, India, Latin America, and Australia, I routinely hear, “I want to make an impact and solve big world problems. Can I really do that in computer science?” In addition, I hear these young women questioning their capabilities and expressing a lack of confidence in entering hackathons and computing competitions. This is why we are launching this International Women’s Hackathon: to help young women build their confidence, their capabilities, and their networks and to help them see that they can have a significant impact in the world through computing. That they can build solutions to help victims of human trafficking get out of exploitative situations and help ensure that younger girls do not fall prey to the same exploitation.

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Hacking to build diverse teams of technological innovators

Technology can play a key role in finding solutions to big problems. First, we have to build diverse teams of innovators to lead the way. Hackathons provide a great opportunity for anyone to experience coding and see how technology can be used to address serious issues. As I contemplate my New Year’s resolutions, I hope to do all that I can to encourage everyone who has an interest in computing to participate in a hackathon—as either a hacker or a sponsor.

Microsoft Research was pleased to be a sponsor and supporter of Americas Datafest, a hackathon that took place in November 2013. The hackathon was organized by Teresa Bouza, Deputy Bureau Chief of EFE and Knight Fellow at Stanford University. Teresa believes that the rapid spread of mobile broadband has the potential to help us address the challenges facing society in a data-driven manner. To explore this potential, she brought together programmers, engineers, journalists, NGOs, data scientists, and others for a weekend of intense, multi-city collaboration to address important issues related to migration in the Americas.

The hackathon demonstrated that technology experts, working in partnership with subject matter experts, could generate creative and promising ideas that can make a difference. We know that events like these not only help grow the next generation of diverse computer scientists and innovators, but also communicate the message that technology can help solve the world’s greatest problems.

I’d like to hand this over to Teresa to discuss the event in more detail.

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

 

Before I begin, I would like to say a few words about the issue we wanted to address with Americas Datafest. While immigration to the United States may be the most visible aspect of migration in the Americas, human flows throughout the region are complex and evolving. For example, Mexico is becoming a destination country, thanks to its growing economy and there are significant patterns of population movement within Latin America.

The idea behind the hackathon was to inspire contestants to build apps that make public and crowd-sourced data accessible and useful for migrants. We also wanted to create tools that facilitate outreach and data collection by NGOs and researchers. Ultimately, such efforts can provide evidence to inform immigration policies across the region. I invited subject matter experts from the United Nations, the World Bank, and NGOs in the United States and Latin America to submit challenge topics, which our participants then used as a basis for brainstorming project ideas.

The event was held simultaneously in 20 cities across 11 countries and each location nominated two top teams for our global awards. Their projects covered a diverse range of ideas. Harvard students focused on facilitating immigrants’ integration. Other students from the United States, Venezuela, Mexico, and Brazil built tools that can help migrants in general, whether they move domestically or abroad.

Health was another prominent subject. The team at Fusion, the new joint venture between ABC News and Univision, created a project that will allow the TV network’s audience to gather their personal data to improve their understanding of their own health; the aggregate data can be used to examine the major health issues within the demographic. Like this project, many of the projects can be adapted for other parts of the world.

The winning projects were:

¿Dónde estás?: A measurement and mapping tool to search for Central American migrants in Mexico

Health24: An application that helps migrants receive basic diagnoses and correctly identify and use over-the-counter drugs

Invio: A secure and easy-to-use mobile application that gives immigrants control over how and to whom their remittances are distributed

Migratio: A safety-focused database of migrants that includes tracking and geomapping features

Salvaviajes: An SMS/web communication platform for crowdsourcing alerts on migration-related issues within Central America and southern North America.

Teresa Bouza, Deputy Bureau Chief at EFE, and Knight Fellow, Stanford University

 

Readers may be interested to note that the Microsoft Research International Women’s Hackathon 2014 is scheduled to take place April 25 to 27, 2014, on university campuses around the world and live at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. At this year’s event, participating women students have the opportunity to design a software application to address one of the following challenges: (1) increase women’s participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors, or (2) put a halt to texting while driving. For more information or get involved, visit International Women’s Hackathon 2014.

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Creating Buzz for Computer Science

Here’s a sobering fact: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2018 there will be 1.4 million open technology jobs in the United States and, at the current rate of students graduating with degrees in computer science, we will fill only 61 percent of those openings. These predictions are all the more dispiriting when you realize that the latest advances in improving healthcare, protecting the environment, and upgrading manufacturing have come from technological innovations. I believe that no other field offers as much opportunity for students and society as computer science does.   This is why Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek)—the week of computer pioneer Grace Hopper’s birthday (December 9)—is so important: it’s our chance to inspire as many students as possible to pursue this field. CSEdWeek recognizes the critical role of computing in today’s society and the imperative to bolster computer science education at all levels.

Rane Johnson-Stempson helps high-school students understand rapid prototyping with .NET Gadgeteer from Microsoft Research.

In a way, it’s surprising that more young people aren’t going into computer science. As I travel the world and meet with students in middle school, high school, and college, I encounter a reoccurring theme: these students want a career where they can make an impact. They want to take on social issues, world issues, and be part of something bigger. This is where I explain to them that computer science is the field they want to pursue. Innovations in combating HIV, understanding the human genome, protecting the environment—these, I tell them, are just some of the urgent global needs that are being addressed with technology. It’s imperative that bright young people see the enormous potential for doing good through computing.

University of Washington Women in Informatics senior Kathyrn Kuan teaches students how to program their .NET Gadgeteer prototypes.  This is why, in conjunction with CSEdWeek, representatives from Microsoft Research and the newly formed University of Washington Women in Informatics headed to the Kent Technology Academy (a middle school) and Kent Meridian Technology Academy (a high school), to share with students what can be accomplished in the fields of computer and information sciences. We demonstrated how technology can help students understand the universe (with WorldWide Telescope); bridge the gap between science and the humanities (with ChronoZoom); develop games (with Kodu); and create mobile applications (with TouchDevelop) and rapid prototypes (with .NET Gadgeteer). We showed how social media can help us better understand human emotions and behaviors, which can lead to better healthcare, and, above all, we strove to convey the excitement and fulfillment that comes from engineering innovations and making tools that are used by millions across the world.

University of Washington Women in Informatics freshman Courtney Dutton helps students debug their code.I came away with a renewed respect for the teachers, as we hustled through six 55-minute sessions with only a short, 30-minute break for lunch. Typically, the teachers hurry through their meal and then grade papers during this short timeout, but they broke with their normal routine to talk with us about their students, their curricula, and the challenges and opportunities offered by computer science. It was heartening to hear their optimism about their pupils and the future of technology, and extremely humbling to be thanked for our participation in their efforts. I think Susan Whitehall, the principal at Kent Meridian Technology Academy (KMTA), said it best:

At KMTA, our goal is technology integration. Our teachers involve students in projects that are not necessarily about technology itself, but use technology to expedite, enhance, and expand all areas of learning. The partnership with Microsoft allows students to see what can happen when knowledge, technological expertise, and creativity all come together. Our students get to work with excellent role models and engage in high-interest, hands-on activities. Most importantly, this partnership helps remind students that they themselves are amazing human beings with limitless potential.

High-school students get debugging help from Rane Johnson-Stempson.That amazing potential was on full display during our visit, making it an enjoyable experience for everyone. For me personally, the most fun was working with students as they learned about rapid prototyping and industrial design through our .NET Gadgeteer platform. The students learned that computer science isn’t just sitting at a computer, programming in isolation. They discovered that the field also involves working on teams and creating tools that people use every day—items like digital cameras and media players. Given the short class periods, we could do only simple projects, but these were enough to make the students’ eyes light up and to prompt questions about where they can buy a kit. My eyes lit up, too, at the possibility of having inspired hundreds of budding computer scientists.

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

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ChronoZoom wins Digital Education Achievement Award

Many of you have heard me talk passionately about ChronoZoom over the past year, especially about our goal to bridge the gap between the sciences and humanities through this amazing open-source tool, which strives to capture the history of everything. I love the amazing breadth of these ambitions.

Another thing I love about ChronoZoom is how it was created by the academic community, with assistance from Microsoft through Microsoft Research Connections. The academic part of the ChronoZoom team has had a very busy summer, delivering two releases independently, without any coaching from the Microsoft engineering team. I urge you to check out the new features and download the source code on Codeplex.

I had a fabulous time working with our community leader, Roland Saekow of the University of California, Berkeley, as we presented ChronoZoom at the International Big History Association Conference at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. I’d like to hand this blog over to Roland, to tell you about a great tribute the team received this summer!

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

Three years ago, I was a student at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), taking a course on the history of everything. The course was titled “Big History: Cosmos, Earth, Life and Humanity.” Taught by Professor Walter Alvarez, it covered everything from the Big Bang to modern man. One of the most challenging aspects of a Big History course is grasping the timescales– all 13.7 billion years. To meet this challenge, Professor Alvarez and I set out to create a dynamic, zoomable timeline. Three years later, after much hard work by incredible teams of people, ChronoZoom received the seventeenth annual Digital Education Achievement Award.

Chris Engberg (left) and Roland Saekow (right) accept the Digital Education Achievement award on behalf of the ChronoZoom team from the Center for Digital Education, represented by Kristy Fifelski, New Media Dirctor, e.Republic Inc. (center).  Chris Engberg (left) and Roland Saekow (right) accept the Digital Education Achievement award on behalf of the ChronoZoom team from the Center for Digital Education, represented by Kristy Fifelski, New Media Director, e.Republic Inc. (center). Image courtesy of the Center for Digital Education

This award, which is presented by the Center for Digital Education (a division of e.Republic), recognizes the results of countless hours of planning, discussion, prototyping, and development—the collaborative efforts of dedicated and passionate individuals from all over the world. Our team includes software engineers, program managers, and project leaders at Microsoft Research Connections in Redmond, Washington, and students and professors at Moscow State University in Russia and at UC Berkeley. This dispersed team developed cutting-edge HTML5 code and implemented services on Windows Azure to create a rich, visual database full of historical events and timelines.

Roland Saekow answers questions during the Digital Education Achievement Award panelOne aspect of the ChronoZoom project I find fascinating is that students—undergraduates, graduates, and postdocs—wrote nearly 80 percent of the code in today’s beta release. This award recognizes the successful collaboration between experienced veterans of the computer science world and students who have been inspired and mentored with great care and passion to do outstanding work.   Work on ChronoZoom began as a dream—a hopeful vision into the future. Not only did the right people have to come together at the same moment, but they also had to learn to work together in near perfect synchronization to transform our dream into a reality.   I am very proud of everyone on the team, and I look forward to our continued success. As an open-source project, we continue to grow our team, and take with us the experience in collaboration that Microsoft Research fostered. We invite you to join us on this journey to bring history to life.    Roland Saekow, ChronoZoom Community Lead, University of California, Berkeley

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Honored to be invited to the UN General Assembly Head of State Reception and to meet President Obama and the First Lady

On Monday, September 24, I got the thrill of a lifetime. I was a guest of the White House at the UN Head of State Reception, where I had the great honor of meeting President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. I was also excited about the exceptional opportunity to discuss efforts against human trafficking—and my passion to grow the number of women in the field of computing—with interested heads of state from 150 countries and leaders of the top advocacy organizations fighting human trafficking in the United States today. The invitation was the result of my participation in efforts to use technology to combat the modern-day scourge of sex trafficking.

President Barack Obama, accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama, announced his administration’s latest efforts to combat human trafficking President Barack Obama, accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama, announced his administration’s latest efforts to combat human trafficking

In previous blog posts, I’ve talked about how danah boyd of Microsoft Research New England, the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit, and I are passionate about the possibilities of employing technology to disrupt this heinous crime. It was exciting to see the enthusiastic support for the work we’re doing, which was evident the following day, when the president announced his administration’s latest efforts to combat human trafficking in the United States and abroad.

I was particularly moved by his saying that human trafficking “…ought to concern every person, because it’s a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at the social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name—modern slavery.”

As part of his announcement, the president outlined several initiatives that his administration will undertake in the fight against human trafficking. These actions include providing new tools and training to help law enforcement and other government agencies identify and assist the victims of human trafficking, and increased social services and legal assistance for these victims. The announcement also directed the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons to develop the first-ever federal strategic action plan to strengthen services for trafficking victims.

For my part, I’ve been active in the efforts of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Council on Women and Girls, serving on two committees and leading a third. As a group, we’ve brought together victims’ advocates, law enforcement leaders, technology companies, and researchers to brainstorm on three key issues: (1) how to share information more effectively with law enforcement; (2) how to harness the power of the Internet to reach victims; and (3) how to best provide victims of child sex trafficking with the help they need.

I’m cautiously optimistic that we will make real progress in this area over the next few years. We know that it will take a partnership of experts, a foundation of policies, and effective technology to be successful.

We’re seeing the right partnerships forming under the leadership of the White House. We are working to engage a multi-discipline group of experts to conduct the rigorous research needed to better understand the problem. In addition, with the president’s announcement and the work being done by attorneys general across the United States, policies are being put in place to help support survivors and more effectively prosecute perpetrators. Moreover, we’re making progress in the quest to understand technology’s role in trafficking and to determine what policies should be enacted to ensure that our children are safe online. Together, these developments should enable us to create technologies to deter and, better yet, help prevent human trafficking.

As you know, I believe taking on social issues like human trafficking will inspire this next generation of girls to want to be computer scientists and help us solve these challenges through technology. I am already seeing young women’s eyes light up as I discuss this work in middle schools and summer programs for girls. Although we are just in the early stages of our work, I’m very excited about the research we are supporting and the projects I am working on in this area. In the coming months, I’ll be back to provide more details about our projects and to report on the progress we are making. In the meantime, you can see great work being done in human trafficking where I will share some of our work in Microsoft and Microsoft Research at the University Nebraska Lincoln Human Trafficking Conference.  I am very excited to be an active participant, speaker and moderator at this fabulous event.

Can I just say how lucky I feel that I have the best job in the world, where I can make impact and hopefully change the world for the better!

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

 

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Growing Women in Computing with amazing Interns

As many of you know by now, I am super passionate about how we are going to double the number of women and ethnic minorities in computer science and informatics across the world. As part of my efforts to take on this achievable but daunting task, I have hired two outstanding women (who are pursuing their PhDs) as my interns this summer: Katie Doran and Meagan Rothschild. This month, Katie will tell you about her research and her experience working with me to grow more women and ethnic minorities in computing. You will hear from Meagan in December when we get closer to completing her research findings.

Before we hear from Katie, let me tell you a little about her. Microsoft Research intern, Katie DoranKatie Doran is pursuing a PhD in computer science at North Carolina State University with an emphasis on educational technologies and serious gaming. She is particularly interested in exploring how emerging games technologies, such as augmented reality and ubiquitous features, can facilitate novel interactions among players and increase learning potential. Katie is heavily involved in the Broadening Participation in Computing Community and leads multiple science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) outreach programs. I had the opportunity to meet Katie during the poster session at the CRA-W Grad Cohort event that Microsoft Research sponsors. I am excited to have her working with me on evaluating ChronoZoom as an educational tool. ChronoZoom is a web-based, interactive visualization of Big History, the broadest possible view of the past stretching from 13.7 billion years ago to today. Our vision is to enable innovative ways of teaching Big History and its various components, and empowering interdisciplinary studies. I’d like to hand this blog over to Katie now to tell you about the exciting projects she’s been working on. —Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director for Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections

In addition to my work on ChronoZoom, which has included hands-on sessions with more than 60 students, I have taken the lead on multiple outreach initiatives. Twice, I was able to bring student groups to the Microsoft Redmond campus for hands-on demos of TouchDevelop and IllumiShare, panels with successful women from across Microsoft, and tours of the Microsoft Home. The first group was all middle-school girls from Girls Gather for Computer Science, a summer camp focusing on hands-on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) activities. Our second group was from the University of Washington’s Math Academy, a program for high-school students from underrepresented groups who are on track to complete the highest level math requirements at their schools before graduation. Both groups of students were phenomenal and left campus with an entirely different perspective on what it would be like to have a career as a computer scientist—especially here at Microsoft. Watching the students’ reactions—as they heard about the breadth of work being done by Microsoft employees here in Building 99, across campus, and around the world—was very encouraging. At the end of both sessions, I went home knowing that each of those students had been exposed to opportunities they never even knew existed. My third outreach event of the summer was attending STARS Celebration 2012 in Hampton, Virginia. STARS, which stands for Students and Technology in Academia, Research, and Service, is an National Science Foundation-funded Broadening Participation in Computing project that focuses on professional development for university students in STEM fields as well as outreach with elementary and high-school students to build and reinforce interest in studying STEM topics. This event was particularly fun for me, because I have been an active member of STARS since 2008. At STARS Celebration, I was able to present on my own work—STEM outreach in Haiti, evaluating outreach, and outreach with game design and development—and the significant work being done by Microsoft Research to promote an interest in computer science! I presented two sessions on Microsoft tools for outreach use and both were standing room only.

Everyone in attendance was impressed with the number of free tools that Microsoft makes available for outreach activities, such as TouchDevelop, Kodu, Pex for fun, and Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer. As a NASA Fellow, the highlight for me was getting to show off the incredibly adorable Mars Rover additions to Kodu. Based on the response I received, I expect large numbers of game designers and astronauts in about 10 years! My research and outreach work with Microsoft Research this summer has led me to the biggest annual event for women in computing—the Grace Hopper Celebration 2012 (GHC) in Baltimore, Maryland. I’ve spent the past few weeks working with Rane to organize Microsoft’s presence at GHC. It’s been a big undertaking because Microsoft has an incredible 165 people registered, including six executives and six senior women! It is inspiring to see Microsoft employees taking such an interest in growing the number of women in computer science. With the energy I put towards this effort, it is thrilling to know that the girls I help inspire can apply to a company that is eager to hire, retain, and support exceptional women after they complete their degrees. In addition to being overwhelmed with the amazing presence that Microsoft has here, I’ve been busy supporting Anita’s Quilt, a blog from the Anita Borg Institute that allows remarkable women in technical fields to motivate and empower one another through their stories. I’ve been handing out stickers and sharing the story of Anita’s Quilt since I arrived on Tuesday, but if we haven’t met yet, keep your eyes open for me—I’d love to give you a sticker and fill you in. I could also tell you about the wonderful young women I look forward to meeting at the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Award Winners Reception tomorrow. They are an impressive group of brilliant, enthusiastic high-school girls who are going to go on to be the next leaders in computer science. You can find me, my mentor Rane, and a group of other talented, passionate Microsoft women volunteering at the Microsoft booth. Stop by booth #1315 to say hello, get information on internship and career opportunities, and to develop your own Windows Phone application! If you don’t have time to say hello, or you didn’t make it to GHC—you can find out about many of our initiatives at our Women in Computing website. I hope you’re all having as fantastic and inspiring an experience here at Grace Hopper as I am! —Katie Doran, Intern, Microsoft

Learn more at:

http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/news/features/hopper2012-100512.aspx

http://research.microsoft.com/en-US/events/women-in-computing2012/default.aspx

 

Year in review

So another fiscal year ends at Microsoft and instead of having a New Year’s Resolution on January 1st, I like to create my Microsoft New Year’s Resolution on July 1st! This year I have committed to my family, friends and close colleagues:

  • To travel less and be around more
  • Continue to be committed to changing the world but take it on in manageable pieces
  • No working on weekends
  • Disconnect when on vacation and  to take more vacations
  • Become a better paddle boarder and kayaker
  • Blog more regularly
  • Volunteer at a manageable level
  • Have more ladies weekends
  • Better tell the Microsoft Research story around the world and what we are doing and how folks can better work with us

In addition, I have gotten a haircut and it’s a new Rane, what do you think?

 

I think you can see a theme here. So after ten years at Microsoft and closing my first year with Microsoft Research, I continue to be drinking the cool aid as my husband says. As I tell all my family and friends, I feel like I have the best job in the company and who can go to bed every night knowing you are doing something that will make impact in the world and possibly change lives. It is so exciting to be working for an organization that is finding the cure for HIV through anti-spam algorithms, using the power of computer science to map the sugarcane gnome and using technology how can we better enable citizen science when it comes to endangered species and the environment. So many cool discoveries and innovations. It is almost unbelievable to me that I get to work with the top academic experts around the world to build a tool that bridges the gap between sciences and humanities and helps students all over the world to understand the history of everything better. Check out http://chronozoomproject.org if you haven’t yet. In addition, having the ability to create the strategy and how we as an organization outreach and grow the pipeline of women innovators in technology there is never a dull day. You can see this new strategy and what we are doing at http://research.microsoft.com/diversity. As part of this work, I am pleased to have the opportunity to work with famous social scientist and Microsoft researcher Dr. danah boyd and six top researchers on how we look at technology and the human trafficking of minors in the United States, see my blog post below and this video: http://research.microsoft.com/apps/video/?id=169416.

This year I have had the opportunity to meet and work with the most amazing people with the most amazing backgrounds and stories. Just a couple of ladies who are changing the world, if you don’t know I must tell you about:

  • Lucy Sanders, CEO of the National Center for Women in Technology is one of the busiest women I have ever met. She has had the most amazing career and is doing everything possible to grow more women in technology and she knows everyone!   She is a Bell Labs Fellow with 5 patents, has been inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame and recently was named by the U.S. secretary of Commerce to serve on the department’s Innovation Advisory Board. Her energy and passion is contagious.
  • Telle Whitney, CEO of the Anita Borg Institute and was the co-founder of the amazing Grace Hoppers Conference (the largest conference for women in computing in the world).   She has moved Anita Borg Institute from a small NGO of a few employees on grant funds to more than 25 employees being self-sufficient and thriving!  She serves on the advisory boards of Caltech’s Information Science and Technology, California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, and Illuminate Ventures. She has won so many awards similar to Lucy and I have to highlight that she was named in 2011 to the Fast Company Most Influential Women in Technology List. She constantly keeps me on my toes!
  • Just recently I have had the pleasure to get to know Catherine Didion. She is a Senior Program Officer at the National Academy of Engineering, where she is responsible for      Diversity of the Engineering Workforce program.  She is the driving force behind the efforts to enhance the diversity of the engineering workforce at all levels including the diversity of those being prepared to enter the future workforce. In March of 2007, she became the Director of the Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Just like the ladies above her she has won so many awards and sits on so many committees and is constantly growing my knowledge and capabilities.

I wish I had the time and space to list the hundreds of amazing men and women in NGOs, academia and government I have worked with this year and will continue to work with in collaboration in 2012-2013. I truly hope we can move the dial this year in exciting more girls into the field of computing. If you were not aware, there are only 1800 women graduating with a BS in Computer Science in the United States every year with a total of approximately 10,000 total.  While today there are 200,000 more degrees being handed out to women than men in US colleges, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4654635.

Why is this such a big problem, some people ask me?  Let’s think about it for a second, technology influences all aspects of our daily lives and every discipline under the sun.  If it is healthcare, environment, finance, education, manufacturing, retail, volunteering in the community, and the list goes on there is some type of technology component.  There have been thousands of books written on the differences of men and women.  How we manage differently, think differently, are wired differently, this list too goes on and on.  If you are a fan or not we have to admit a lot of what is stated in “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus” is true.  So given that, how can we truly be innovating if there are not enough women helping build the future innovations and technologies that will make our lives better, more efficient and more effective.  If there are not women in teams to ask different types of questions and look at making the solutions in different ways and understanding the needs of their audience that they belong to?   There is so much we can go and I hope to do with the best minds around the world to make a dent in this area.

Jumping subjects, what has been much amusement for me this Summer is my two fantastic PHD interns, Katie and Meagan.  I had the opportunity to meet Katie at the CRA-W Grad Cohort where she gave a fabulous poster session that excited me to her potential.  Katie hails from University of North Carolina at Charlotte and is very passionate about computing and education, what is dear to my heart!  She joined our ChronoZoom team to investigate if data visualization of BIG DATA can be a better teaching and learning experience for students and help them to better conceptualize data and information and learn 21st century skills better.  She will also partner with me and Microsoft researcher Steven Drucker to examine more longitudinal use of a visualization within a classroom setting. While Meagan come from University of Wisconsin-Madison will be here for a 6 month internship, working with me and in partnership with  Alex Games from IEB.  Meagan will be focusing on studies of youth learning with 2 Way-TV, and of studies of student engagement  in STEM with Dakota.  In both cases, she will also do a deep investigation on Girls and Learning and helping us better reach Girls in STEM through XBOX, Kinect and Kodu. These ladies are brilliant, fabulous and will definitely change the world!

Katie has taken the bull by the horn and has helped me (really took the lead) in supporting two great programs that will enable young women and minorities to pursue careers in computing.  Katie organized two days at Microsoft for these young computer scientists to experience what it is like to pursue a career in technology and what is possible with computer science.  The students met with interns, heard from executives and visited the Microsoft Home of the Future.  The first group was sponsored by Pacific University, G2CS: Girls Gather for Computer Science (http://www.g2cs.org/) excite young girls across the state of Oregon to computing.  The young women learn about computer science careers, learn to code and do several different types of computing activities.  The second group came from University Washington where they have a great program called the Math Academy (www.uwmathacademy.org) where they help high school students get the math skills necessary to be able to pursue a degree in computer science and have the skills necessary to be able to apply to universities.

So as you can see it has been a fabulous year and I look forward to sharing with you the amazing people, stories and activities to come in 2012-2013.  Stay tuned and please share any stories, articles, publications and information you think I would be interested in to make a difference in education and growing young women in computing!

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