Surfrider Platinum Ocean Friendly Restaurant Opens in Newport, Taking Steps to Saving Our Ocean

This week, I am continuing to take a break from my traumatic brain injury series to focus on the environment and what everyday citizens can do to make a difference.  Last week, I had the opportunity to attend an entertaining event put on by the Surfrider Foundation of Newport.  If you aren’t aware of Surfrider Foundation their mission is protection and enjoyment of the world’s ocean, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network. If you are passionate about our oceans, please join or donate today!

The event was a poetry reading from our new Newport Surfrider Foundation Chair, Scott Rosin, “Tell ‘Em We’re Surfing.”  Before the poetry reading began our local Oregon Field Manager, Bri Goodman talked about the location of our event, Bosque Café. (Bosque is Spanish for forest and Bosque Café is nestled in a forest near Oregon Coast Community College).   I was not aware Newport, Oregon had a restaurant that met the Platinum requirements of the Surfrider Foundation Ocean Friendly Restaurant program and a restaurant that is almost certified as zero-waste!  To be a Platinum Ocean Friendly Restaurant you have to meet the requirements below and Bosque Café goes above and beyond these requirements!

  • No expanded polystyrene use (aka Styrofoam).
  • Proper recycling practices are followed.
  • Only reusable tableware is used for onsite dining, and disposable utensils for takeout food are provided only upon request.
  • No plastic bags offered for takeout or to-go orders.
  • Straws are provided only upon request.
  • No beverages sold in plastic bottles.
  • Discount is offered for customers with reusable cup, mug, bag, etc.
  • Vegetarian/vegan food options are offered on a regular basis
  • All seafood must be a ‘Best Choice’ or ‘Good Alternative’ as defined by Seafood Watch or certified as sustainable.
  • Water conservation efforts, such as low-flow faucets and toilets, are implemented.
  • Energy efficiency efforts such as LED lighting and Energy Star appliances, are in place.

After hearing this, I had to meet the owners and understand why take this huge risk in starting a brand-new business and in such a small community, (there are only 10,000 residents in Newport.)  When I met Ed and Hidi Cortes, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Hidi is Vietnamese and grew up in California in Orange County (just like me) and Ed is Mexican with an IT background (also like me).  I felt I had met my long-lost sister and brother.  They have lived in Newport for thirteen years and explained to me it has always been important to them to live a sustainable life, trying to buy local or grow local vegetables, fruits, meats and fish. Reducing their footprint on this earth and ensuring they had as little waste as possible.

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Cortes Family at the new Bosque Café

Let’s spend a little time understanding why zero waste is so important and how cool it is that Ed and Hidi are trying to execute this concept here in Newport.  According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, households and businesses threw away 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010. A 2014 study by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance found that 84.3% of unused food in American restaurants ends up being disposed of; 14.3% is recycled, and only 1.4% is donated.  Landfilled food provides ready fuel for methane gas production — the most environmentally destructive greenhouse gas linked to global warming.  In addition to food wastes, there is plastic and inedible items that don’t biodegrade and wash into our ocean and beach shores.  There has been so much discussion on what do we do about the 1.2 trillion tons of plastic trash floating in the Pacific Ocean and most scientist say the best thing is how do we reduce our dependence on plastic and stop throwing plastics away.

This is what Ed and Hidi are trying to do!  At Bosque there will be the right size of consumable portions, so you don’t have left overs you throw away.  There will not be take away drink or food containers that will be thrown away at home.  They ask you consider bringing your own if you are in a hurry and can’t enjoy their relaxing atmosphere.  In the future they will have reusable non-plastic containers for purchase.

Hidi grew up in a family that owned multiple restaurants, eating eclectic foods and combining different ethnic foods to create a new culinary fare.  For example, blending foods and spices from Mexico and Vietnam like creating an Asian version of the tortilla.   It really resonated with me, as I do this all the time and my husband looks at me with a particular look when he sees Soy Sauce going into the Bolognese Sunday Gravy Sauce.

Hidi loves to cook, has always wanted to open her own restaurant and there are zero Vietnamese Restaurants in Newport.  The Cortes family thought this was the perfect time.  In wanting to be sustainable and fresh, Vietnamese was a perfect choice since it is known for its healthy cuisine and it works well to make vegetarian and vegan options out of traditional Vietnamese favorites.  What is really exciting is Hidi wants to push her culinary creativity so each month you will see specials in other global traditions that may have a little Vietnamese influence.  I’m dying to try her take on curry that she has transformed from all the different countries that create curries, she described to me during our interview.

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The yummy menu.

I asked Ed why he chose his location adjacent to Oregon Coast Community College.  A restaurant like this would get a lot more traffic and be more successful in Nye Beach or on the Bay Front.  Ed is an ultra-runner and runs in the woods near Oregon Coast Community College and when he saw the opportunity to launch a restaurant and café in his favorite running area they decided to take the plunge! Also, he wants to help support the students (OCCC students get 10% discount) and bring more options to the growing community in South Beach.  Everyone will be pleasantly surprised on the nice size portions for the price!  They are in process of getting their liquor license so currently you will need to go upstairs to the Wolf Tree Brewery Taproom for those options.

They are excited to open their café and restaurant to organizations for events, like the one we just had with Surfrider.  The space is clean, bright and inviting.  Ed has lots of ideas and plans you will see in the future to bring some exciting local art and technology to the forefront, be sure to keep coming by often!  As I discussed earlier growing their own local vegetables is important to the Cortes Family; therefore, you will see a full hydroponics system in the restaurant in the near future.   They also make their own fresh soy and almond milk.   For those of you in town October 14th at 2pm, is the official Grand Opening, make sure you come by and support an amazing family, restaurant and try the scrumptious Vietnamese food!

Being Good Stewards of Our Ocean

This week I will be taking a break from my blog series on traumatic brain injury to discuss possible climate change effects on our Oregon Coast and the entire West Coast.  I had the opportunity to join my friend, Dr. Lindsay Aylesworth, on a volunteer surveying activity with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Marine Reserves and Oregon State University at Otter Rock Marine Reserve, Oregon.

It was the first time I woke up at 4:55AM in morning in the last four years since my brain injury.  We headed out to the Otter Rock Marine Reserve on a super low negative tide day.  It was amazing, I had never been out that far or in the marine reserve before.

First off, Doctor Sarah Gravem gave an overview of the intertidal area.  Oregon’s intertidal zone hosts 116 species of invertebrates, 71 species of algae, and 3 species of seagrass. She then explained how sea stars are the ‘great white shark’ of the intertidal zone.  They serve as the apex predator helping to maintain a balanced ecosystem.  I couldn’t believe these beautiful calm creatures were veracious eaters.

Sarah then explained the reason we were out surveying was due to a massive virus that almost made the sea stars extinct a couple years ago down the west coast and they are trying to determine how it effects the intertidal zone now.  For example, what happens to the intertidal zone if there are too many mussels because there are fewer sea stars to eat them?

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The team on Otter Rock Marine Reserve surveying intertidal zone.

Not many people realize back in 2013-2014 there was a massive virus epidemic that nearly wiped out the entire sea star population from Baja Mexico to Alaska.  This wasting disease infects the sea star and causes it to develop lesions that dissolve their tissue and spread throughout their bodies.  It often kills the invertebrates within a couple of weeks or even a matter of days. When lesions appear on the sea stars’ rays (the arms of the star fish), a resilient few sea stars may shed the limb before the disease reaches their vital organs and later regrow it, but unfortunately most ended up dying. More often, the sea stars’ extremities become gnarled and deformed as the wasting syndrome takes hold, and the organisms quickly disintegrate into a white mush.

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Example of sea stars with wasting disease.

No one really knows why the wasting disease occurs but some scientists hypothesize climate change had something to do with it.  From studies done in Oregon, it does not appear that the disease was triggered by climate change since it began when waters were colder than normal. However this is only for Oregon, as for Washington, California, Mexico and Alaska waters were warming. Other scientists still believe that climate change triggered the disease in those places. Additionally, after the outbreak climate change definitely played a role in the severity of the disease in Oregon.  As this warming in our oceans continue to occur we are seeing changes in marine life and their ecosystem.

Additionally, we have the huge blob of trash floating out in the Pacific Ocean that may be wreaking some type of havoc on our marine habitat.  Scientists are studying this to better determine what all this trash means to our marine habitat.  We as citizens need to do a better job of ensuring we keep trash, sewage, chemicals and plastic out of our oceans.

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Haley and Greg counting mussels, snails and starfish.

But I digress, now back to the surveying.  Our goal was to count all the new mussels forming, the various snails and starfish that were in the intertidal zone.  We then spent the next four hours counting, photographing and documenting what we could find in one meter and ½ meter quadrants.

For those of you living near Newport or in any Oregon Coast community you can be part of citizen science.  One of ODFW’s collaborators, MARINe, uses citizen science to report where healthy and afflicted sea stars are being found. Anyone can download their datasheets, collect data, and then submit it online . If this sounds interesting, there are a few things to note before heading out to become doctors of the intertidal zone (check out full methods here).

Species identification is necessary so be familiar with the local species of sea stars. Size needs to be recorded so bring a ruler or something of known length as a reference. Review this post to familiarize with the types of sea star wasting symptoms. If you find there are diseased individuals remember to take a picture and send it to seastarwasting@googlegroups.com.

There is some good news though.  Several baby sea stars have survived the wasting disease and are beginning to reproduce.  Our hope is the population will come back.  Oregon Public Broadcasting published a good story discussing the new baby boom.

We can all be better stewards of the intertidal zone.  First, don’t pick up any creatures-feel free to touch but don’t move or remove. Second, follow the guidelines in the image below. Third, join the Newport Surfrider Chapter that does beach clean-ups, water quality checks and projects to save our ocean.  Lastly, if you want to learn more about sea stars I have listed some great resources below that were shared with me by Taylor Ely a Sea Grant Scholar.

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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!

 

Learning mindfulness, mediation and tranquility

Through this ordeal I have learned a lot about concussions and traumatic brain injury. Every time I stress out and continue to blackout and hit my head, I could cause major neurologic and psychological problems. I finally took this seriously and decided I could not power on through.  In the next few paragraphs, I will give you a summary about stress, concussions and brain injury.  It’s a little dry taken from Mayo Clinic and a few other scientific publications but its helpful in your understanding why mediation is so important for those of us who are workaholics or survivors of traumatic brain injury.

Every year, 1.5 million Americans sustain traumatic brain injuries.  In a concussion, your neural cells are damaged and your brain must recover to rebuild these cells.  If you are always stressed your levels of cortisol will be high and the brain will take even more time to recover.  Cortisol is a corticosteroid hormone that is released by your adrenal gland during stressful situations. When your highly stressed then a large amount of cortisol remains in your brain. It generates more overproduction of myelin-producing cells and fewer neurons than normal. This can result in adverse effects that can impair important cognitive structures in your brain, like damage to your hippocampus (responsible for the processing and storage of short-term memory).  In addition, it affects the differences in the volume of gray matter versus white matter (creating more white matter and increasing atrophy in the white matter), as well as the and size and connectivity of the amygdala (is the integrative center for emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation).  The “gray matter” of the brain is densely packed with nerve cell bodies and is responsible for the brain’s higher functions, such as thinking, computing, and decision-making.

Multiple concussions reduce the amount of gray matter and decreases the number of stem cells that mature into neurons affecting learning, memory, decision making, multi-tasking and concentration. In post-concussion syndrome you can have symptoms like fatigue, sleep difficulties, irritability, balance and coordination problems, agitation, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, altered consciousness and difficulty processing information. I was suffering from all of these!  Studies and research have shown that Mindfulness meditation helps to reduce the symptoms and distress on the brain and helps increase gray matter in the insula, frontal cortex and sensory regions.  Researchers found that the frontal regions, anterior cingulate, limbic system and parietal lobes were affected during meditation and that there were different patterns of cerebral blood flow between the two meditation states i.e.“focused-based” practice and a “breath-based” practice.

Meditation increases regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in the prefrontal cortex.  As reported by researchers the cerebral blood flow of long-term meditators was significantly higher compared to non-meditators in the prefrontal cortex, parietal cortex, thalamus, putamen, caudate, and midbrain. In brief body-scans of meditators show meditation practice improves somatosensory perceptual decision making.  Meditation enhances cortical remapping and brain functions while it also helps to uplift mental health and causes healthy changes in the brain. It was time to take my meditation practice seriously!

So, for ten years I was trying to learn how to meditate but never had truly made a practice.  I had read a number of books on meditation, mindfulness and how to radiate calmness.  I even went to mediation workshops but I never stuck to it.  Now I had to or I may never get better.  In the beginning, trying to calm my monkey mind was impossible.  I would start focusing on my breath and then the next minute I would be thinking about what I would knit next, go back to my breath and then think about a new recipe to try.  I could never sit there for more than 5 minutes without having to twitch or move or scratch.

If you are a crazy Type A person, whose mind is always thinking and nerving on something.  The best way to get into a mediation practice is to start with guided meditation for sleep, called Yoga Nidra.  I started with this one and then later I downloaded the Insight Timer App from the Google Store, it is amazing and I highly recommend it. My first few weeks I focused on mediating for 15 minutes lying down in bed before sleep during my afternoon nap and right before bed. Your brain can much more easily focus on the voice.   Like what my favorite Tibetan Buddhist Meditation master: Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche says, “You must give your monkey mind a part-time job to be able to meditate.”  As I did these guided meditations, I began to really focus on breathing meditation.

So, a couple times a week before I got up to start my day, I would switch off my audiobook and focus on my breath.   I would chant in my mind rising and falling with the rise and fall of my breath.  When my mind would wonder to something I could hear I would chant hearing, hearing.  Then when it would calm I would go back to my breath and chanting rising and falling.  When I would feel my mind wandering and want to scratch or move my leg, I would start chanting feeling and I would then not need to move and then go back to focusing on my breath.  Soon I was building mindfulness and awareness.  Once again, I was only doing this for 10-15 minutes.  I could feel my energy increase, my twitching and constant need to move to slow.

I am also now enjoying chanting mediation called Om mani padme hum.  I took this from the Tibetan Culture website “Om mani padme hum, which is an ancient mantra that is related to the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara.  Every Tibetan child is taught the mantra by their parents, and they all use it very commonly in daily life, and especially if they make a prayer walk (kora) or go to the temple, or pray using a rosary (mala).  Basically, any mantra is “a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of ‘creating transformation.’”  There are great examples and guides on the Insight Timer App.

I then re-read all my meditation books, I highly recommend the following:

·         The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness, By Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche with Eric Swanson, Daniel Goleman

·         Joyful Wisdom: Embracing Change and Finding Freedom, By Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche with Eric Swanson

·         Turning Confusion into Clarity: A Guide to the Foundation Practices of Tibetan Buddhism, By Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche with Helen Tworkov, Matthieu Ricard      ranemediating

Rane mediating at our Beach House in Newport, Oregon

They now began to make more sense to me.  I now tried walking mediation when I went on my walks in Shevlin Park and around the golf course.  Trust me it’s not easy, I would have good weeks and have weeks in which I did no mediation and forgot about my practice.  But I wanted my brain to heal so I would then make sure even if it was only 5 minutes I did some type of mediation each day.  Then my friend Maribel taught me Hong Sau Mediation, which I love and can do for 30 minutes a day now.  I highly suggest this for beginners, here is a link to a great guide.

Today, I am focused on loving kindness and mindfulness mediation called Metta Bhavana.  In this practice, you start focusing on yourself and feelings of peace and calmness and then nurture your state of mind into strength and confidence while chanting ‘may I be well, may I be happy, may I be healthy and may I be free from suffering’ and cultivate the love within your heart.  The next stage you focus on a close friend.  Think about your connections, why you love this person, why you are encouraged by this person and begin chanting ‘may he/she be well and happy’ as you feel the love in your heart for that person grow.  Think of a person you are neutral with and have neither strong love or dislike for and think about this person’s humanity, what actions this person can make you feel encouraged and could make you love this person.  Begin chanting ‘may he/she be well and happy.’ Now think of someone you really dislike and have ill feelings toward (an enemy) and don’t concentrate on their negative actions but think about their positive actions, how can you think about the good intent he/she may have, how could you grow to love this person, how can you encourage this person and have good will towards this person.  Now chant ‘may he/she be well and happy.’ Lastly, in this practice you will think about all four people in positive light, now extend those thoughts to all the people you know, all the people in your neighborhood, all the people in your town, all the people in your region, all the people in your country, all the people and beings on earth.  Feel the love, encouragement, kindness you have for all these people.  Begin chanting ‘may all the people on earth be well and happy.  Slowly focus back on your heart and the love and kindness you are feeling and then step away from your practice.  This has grown into a 45-minute practice for me now.  Some great guides come from the buddhist centre.

My aspiration is for my experiences through mediation to help you in your desire to grow your meditation practice.  My greatest wish is this helps other Type A’s who feel: I really want to meditate but I just don’t have time or patience or the ability to focus their brain that way.  I am here to tell you, you can’t afford not to!  If you are a stress junkie like myself, you must start mediating ASAP you really want to repair the damage you are doing to your brain.   I am hopeful that this is helping my brain and in turn yours.  I am on twenty months of no blackouts and my migraines are diminishing.  I believe my memory is getting better.  I am also working much more on the right side of my brain with art, crafts, playing music but that is the next blog post.  Till next week, I hope you try a few of the practices above.

How to Rest a Type A Brain

So, what became my biggest struggle and the thing holding back my recovery was rest!  I needed to give my monkey mind a part-time job!  You would think when your employer, doctors, family and friends all tell you don’t worry about anything we got it, just focus on your health and getting better, it would make it easier.  It would give you the excuse and confidence you need to finally rest, sleep in, relax and finally be okay to do ‘nothing’.  For a person who is constantly on the go this was worse than Dante’s Inferno. I was anxious, since I was four years old I had been on the go, constantly a full schedule.  Back then it was Brownies (like Boy Scouts for girls), soccer, ballet, gymnastics and school now it was job, mentoring, volunteering, boards, committees, running, exercising, yoga, friends, family the list went on and on. I couldn’t get my brain to relax when I was going to bed when I was normal, how am I going to rest my brain 24-7?  What a nightmare!

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Rane multi-tasking working on two computers, three screens, writing a report, on a conference call and doing email.

For the first five days, sleeping in and having my husband wait on me hand and foot was a pleasure!  I had been here before and I knew I could not afford to do what I did last time.  I could not ignore my doctors’ orders and begin using my cellphone, emails, and texts.  I only allowed myself to text friends but I otherwise had to ignore the cellphone.  I couldn’t watch TV, I couldn’t read a book, I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t have any screen time, I couldn’t go to the grocery store, I couldn’t leave the house, I was dying of boredom!

I was also so scared, it took me 6 months to recover the last time and still the doctors had no idea why I was blacking out.  I had surgery to implant a heart monitor to see if I had a heart issue and after pain and $35,000, good news I don’t have a heart condition but bad news I am so healthy doctors can’t figure out why am I blacking out so much and how to remedy the situation.

I had no idea if I could ever take a shower alone again.  Going through my mind was blacking out and drowning. The last time I went to the bathroom and blacked out and woke up on the floor my family was scared to leave me alone.  Could I ever be alone again? My poor husband was with me 24-7, watching me like a hawk and stressed out beyond belief.  I knew from last time, I had to make myself a schedule or I would go crazy.  I had to fill my day.

So, I went back to listening to audiobooks, cooking healthy meals, and going on long walks on the many Bend trails with my husband and dog Bode.  Indica Marijuana was great to help me finally calm down and actually sleep.   A nap in the afternoon helped to ward off the migraine headaches.  I passed the time listening to audiobooks (this was a great distraction- I became a huge fan of Michael Connelly and crime fiction with more than 60 books I could listen to), knitting so many hours in a day that my hands felt like they were going to fall off, then yoga and meditation before bed and of course more audiobooks.  I would have ear buds in almost all the time, it started driving my husband crazy, as I would always say I didn’t hear you as he would try to have a conversation for me.  I went from an obsessive workaholic to an obsessive book listener, listening to at least 3 books a week.  An obsessive knitter, finishing knitting project every two days. An obsessive home chef, trying new recipes for every meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner) probably the best meals my husband had our entire relationship with fresh homemade foods every day.  The only way my husband got peace was taking me outdoors hiking, walking, kayaking, paddling and away from the house to get my mind to finally turn off and enjoy the fresh smell and beauty of the Oregon high desert.

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Greg, Bode and I on the Deschutes River August 2015

My migraines were worse than the first time, seemed like all day every day, I was so dizzy and nauseous and I couldn’t remember anything.  I just forced myself to push through (later I would find out that is the worst thing you can do and would delay the brain healing and made myself worse) the migraines, I wasn’t going to lay in bed in the dark anymore.  I was just in a constant haze and in miserable pain and probably not a joy to be around.  It drove me nuts how much I searched for the words that were on the tip of my tongue and would come out totally wrong, like botching an idiom.  I had no focus and would be doing one thing and a minute later start something else and totally forget about what I was doing before.  If I tried to multitask, I would get a worse migraine.  This lasted for months before I was ready to see and talk to friends again.  I love being around people and I didn’t want to see anyone but my husband and dog.

All the while, I would be contacting Microsoft every two weeks saying I can’t come back to work, but I was still answering any emergency email or giving directions on the phone on important issues or projects.  I skimmed emails to see only if there were important ones to answer, when my boss came back and said you are on short term disability and on medical leave you cannot be online.  You must stop or I will lock you out of the system.   He had to threaten me with this several times before I finally took it seriously.

Finally, my neurologist said you are out for a minimum of 9 months, no more calling work, no more answering emails on the side, no more volunteering, your declining and not getting better, you are done!  Your husband is to hide your computer and you must relax your brain.  We have one last area we haven’t tried, so I would like you to go to OHSU and test you for seizures.  I believe you don’t have them but let’s make sure.  Since we have tested you for everything and they all come back negative.

So another doctor to visit and I went to OHSU, I had a sleep deprived EEG to replicate stress.  I blacked out during the test.  So, the doctor informed me I didn’t have seizures but to put it in laymen terms, I had Vasovagal syncope and stress was the trigger.  When I get stressed my body’s Vagus nerve freaks out and not enough blood and oxygen goes to my brain.  I had low blood pressure and my blood pressure was so low I was in hypotension.  So when the Vagus nerve wouldn’t work my blood pressure wasn’t high enough to pump the blood and oxygen to my brain, so I would blackout and hit my head on the ground since I got no indication it was happening or was on its way.  There is nothing you can do but bring down your stress, there are no magic bullets to take for this.  Great, my doc is telling a Type A, who thrives on stress, that I can no longer have stress in my life!  WTF! How the hell was I going to do this?  My husband was on a mission, remove all stress from my life.

All I could do now was light exercise (nothing that bounces my concussed brain too much), enjoy the outdoors, listen to audiobooks, meditate, do yoga, knit, paint, cook and nap.  Who would ever think you could fill a day with just those activities?  Thank goodness for all the outreach and activities I did in Bend, it resulted in a lot of friends who I could go on walks with and have a decaf coffee and kombucha with since I was no longer allowed to have caffeine or alcohol.

Also, thank goodness, Greg oversaw a home renovation that included an outdoor sauna, jacuzzi, purchased a massage chair and elliptical training machine per my doctor’s suggestion.  Those all kept my mind off of work, feeling good, healthy and relaxed!  So my schedule was wake up 6am, listen to audiobook till 7am, cook breakfast, go for a 3-10 mile hike with the dog, sit in the sauna then shower, make lunch around 11:30am and eat, sit in the massage chair, meditate and then take a 2 hour nap, around 3:30pm paint, listen to audiobook, then cook dinner, listen to the TV and knit, yoga, shower and fall asleep to an audiobook around 7:45pm and start all over the next day.  Later I would find out this was too much (really this was the most relaxing schedule I have ever had in my life I don’t think I did this little when I was four years old) and I wasn’t giving my mind any time to rest, so I would have to take a 15-minute break between each activity and just close my eyes and do nothing.  (Oh my GOD, was that impossibly hard).

This schedule would continue for almost two years until I could begin adding back more computer time, reading and exercise back into my life.  Things were going well and I started to volunteer.  I volunteered at a soup kitchen, Bend Democrats to try and get Hillary Clinton elected, mentoring young women again via Skype and I organized a fundraiser for the Bethlehem Inn Homeless Shelter in town. I had reached almost 6 months with no blackouts and my migraines were slowing to just a few every couple of weeks.

Then my appeal for long term disability got denied, I would have to file a lawsuit to get my benefits (a few more blogs before for more details), Microsoft laid me off unofficially as I was on medical leave so I could not be laid off officially, but as soon as my medical leave ended I would be laid off.  (No stress what so ever in my life…)  Then two days before the big fundraiser I blacked out as I was walking down my stairs.  My husband Greg witnessed this and it freaked him out.

In his words, “It was very disturbing.  Rane was coming down the stairs and then all of the sudden she melted and fell to the ground.  I dashed toward her but was unable to break her fall as she came down on the stairs.  Luckily, I guess, she landed hard on her butt instead of her head this time just a slight hit on the back of the head but she also lost consciousness.  She was having a Vasovagal syncope, I was gently shaking Rane trying to revive her all the while she was unresponsive and her eyes were rolling back in her head.  It was a scary experience, where you feel totally helpless watching the one you love and not being able to help them or knowing what to do. He also told me he was tired of experiencing this stress and that it was causing him to be depressed and affected his health as well.”

Oh, no, everything has to start all over again.  As my husband carried me to bed, I began to cry would this ever end!  This time my doctor had a ‘come to Jesus meeting’ with me and everything had to stop.  No more thinking about jobs and my next steps on my journey of life, no more volunteering.  She asked me did I want to become a vegetable because if I had another serious concussion I could go into a coma or have permanent brain damage.  She reminded me in the last three years I had 13 concussions and my brain may not be able to handle many more.

I had to take my new lifestyle seriously not only for my sake but my husband, I did not want to have him have to take care of me for the rest of my life?  This finally got me to wake up and focus on thinking about this as an overdue sabbatical.  I had been working since I was 10 years old never taking more than 3 weeks off in any given time.  I had been an insomniac, workaholic, and stress junkie for over 30 years.  It was time for a long vacation.

It was time to enjoy life, the great outdoors, painting, reading, knitting and learning the guitar.  Things I had always wanted to do but never had the time.  Spend time with family and friends that I never had time to truly be engaged with since I was always on the road.  No more thinking about work, I always joked I was going to retire at 40 maybe I would really do it.  I realized then how lucky and blessed I was.  I had an amazing husband, great friends, I was super healthy other than a messed-up brain, low blood pressure and blacking out.

I live in a beautiful place that has 300 days of sun and every outdoor activity I could dream of to participate in (at least the one my doctors allowed me to do).  And for the first time in my life, I was getting permission to be selfish.  So many times, I was focused on everyone else but me, who could I help, who can I coach, who can I mentor, I have to do this because they need me.  But now I needed to think about me and for the first time I realized I did not have the option to focus on helping others but had to only concentrate on helping myself and maybe it was time I finally did that.  So, what occupied my time that I suggest for other Type A’s to finally do to help add a little balance in your life:

  1. Painting, start with watercolors very forgiving then move to acrylics- YouTube has all the videos you need to learn-here is one of my favorites.
  2. Download Libby from your app store and you can listen to free audiobooks from your public library: I highlight suggest the following fiction series: JA Jance Joanne Brady Series and JP Beaumont Series James Patterson Alex Cross Series, David Baldacci John Puller, Amos Decker and Will Robie Series, Michael Connelly Bosch, Mickey Haller Series,
  3. Learn to play an instrument, I focused on the acoustic guitar- great free YouTube videos to learn.
  4. Knitting is not just for grandma, it’s actually a lot of fun and gives you something to do when you are listening to TV and audiobooks.
  5. Stop and smell the roses and enjoy the outdoors. Take time to go on walks in nature, your neighborhood and around town.

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

10 Series: My Concussion, Traumatic Brain Injury and Spouse Support

Hi folks, you may have been wondering where I’ve been the last few years since I’ve fallen off the map and social media world.  Unfortunately, at the NCWIT Conference in May 2015, I had a Vasovagal Syncope episode (My husband will describe this later) which resulted in a concussion and an ambulance ride to the ER in Hilton Head, North Carolina.  I’d like to thank all the thoughtful researchers, professors and NCWIT staff who helped me at the Emergency Room and back at the hotel.  This was my 7th concussion since February 2013 and my body was telling me to slow down in a not so gentle way.  The slow down required me to go on medical leave to the present and my future blogs will describe the 13 concussions and resulting Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and the fight to move from a ‘Type A’, left brained person trying to change the world to someone who needs to slow down, become more right-brained and focus on selfcare.  The blogs I hope will illustrate our frustration with the lack of understanding regarding concussions and TBI by medical professionals and insurance companies.  How the recovery process works for workaholic, outgoing, overachievers.  As well as the hardship for spouses who have to try and take care of a TBI loved one.  I’ll also try to include some words of advice so this doesn’t happen to others, but let’s start at the beginning… 

My husband Greg helps in describing the events from February 2013 that led to my current health conditions that I have been struggling with for the last four years.  Greg describes what he encountered: 

I woke up at about 2am to the sound of a large thud/crash.  I was startled and immediately thought that an intruder had kicked in our sliding door downstairs.  I leaned over to tell Rane that someone was breaking in and that I was going to check on it.  I was shocked she wasn’t there and my heart sank.  I knew something was wrong.  I hurried downstairs and found a large pool of blood next to the refrigerator and no Rane.  I freaked out and started to look for her, I found her in a daze trying to clean herself up in the bathroom.  She had hit her head and had a laceration on her chin where she had fallen on the floor.  We cleaned up the blood and tried to get Rane settled down back in bed after she insisted she didn’t need to go to the hospital right away (Even though she had a headache, blurred vision, was feeling nauseous and vomited, which we later learned are all signs of a concussion.)  In hindsight, I still feel regret for listening to her and not taking her immediately to the hospital.   

All I could think of was that she should not go back to sleep because a concussion could lead to complications, like going to sleep and not waking up-ever.  I had little to no experience in my life with concussions and did not know what to do next.  I seemed to recall that if someone hit their head and is that they should not go to sleep, I helped Rane into the shower.  I had her shower, sit up in bed and not go to sleep for a few hours until she seemed somewhat stable before I let her finally go to sleep.  This was the start of our experience with concussions and the complications from this little understood medical condition. 

It was a Sunday morning, a few hours after her fall, when I took Rane to the Bend Memorial Clinic Emergency Room in Bend, Oregon.  For some background, we had just moved from Seattle about 2 weeks prior to the incident.  We were just getting used to our new home.  The doctor we saw gave Rane some stitches and asked her some medical questions.  He said she probably had a concussion and she should be wary of the onset of concussion symptoms.  He suggested she go home and rest but Rane asked the doctor if she could fly later that morning for a Hackathon she was leading in Los Angeles, CA for work.   

For those of you who don’t know, Rane was a Principal Researcher for Microsoft who was leading Diversity Outreach and growing the next generation of computer scientists–especially women and underrepresented groups—at the time her concussions began.  It was to be the first International Women’s Hackathon* focused on hacking for good and helping non-profits with applications to uniquely help their causes.  Rane, as the leader, was worried.  She was expected to be there leading around 800 women from the world over who were counting on her.  Additionally, this event was her chance to bring the topic of Women in Tech and Women in Computer Science strongly into the media forefront.  Interviews were set up with the New York Times, LA Times, Huffington Post and NPR.  

The ER doctor gave her ‘permission’ to go on that Microsoft business trip and was rather nonchalant about the incident.  He did however tell her if she had a particular list of symptoms, to go to the emergency room.  Rane being the driven and dependable person she was ignored them all.   In hindsight, this decision for Rane to ‘tough it out’ and push through the concussion symptoms was a mistake. I wish I had forced her to stay home and take care of the concussion.   As it turns out this decision likely worsened her condition and greatly extended the duration and severity of its symptoms.  Her issues had a medical name we were later to find out from her Neurologist.  It is called Post-Concussion Syndrome. 

Some small consolation was the good Rane was able to do while on her work trip in LA.  The Hackathon reached women from seven countries and nearly 800 students from colleges and universities.  If you read her blog from February 2013, you will remember her focus was to help victims of human trafficking and work with the top NGOs in the United States to tackle this complex and horrendous issue. They focused on solving the following questions: 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?   

The home base for the Hackathon was University of Southern California (USC), with in-person and Skyped-in participants facilitating connection with women from eight countries around the world.  The Hackathon was able to show women they may only be small in number at their university but there are many of them around the world and they can collaborate and support each other.  The young women brought up how this was so different from other hackathons where they were mostly surrounded by men and most of the time ignored, not able to program but were instead relegated to project management or the final presentation.  There was fierce competition but everyone was supportive in giving suggestions, helping debug issues and wanting each other to be successful in helping the NGOs.  Several women discussed the fact that it was so cool to go on Skype and talk to women from countries outside of the United States like Columbia in South America and Australia.  It was exciting to discuss their applications and approaches.  The best quote Rane brought up to me was “It’s like competing locally but collaborating globally, it’s awesome to see I’m not so all alone and there are many women like me around the world!”   

After the hackathon, Rane was headed to Redmond for business meetings and her quarterly business review presentation.  I was surprised to hear from Rane that she was coming home early and needed to go to the hospital and get a MRI and CT Scan.  She had blacked-out and fell again at work, she had migraines and was very dizzy and nauseous.  I picked her up at the airport and I have never seen her so pale and suffering from a lack of energy.  She told me that she had been dizzy, nauseous and vomited several times during the hackathon.  I was so mad to hear she stayed up 38 hours straight and helped the ladies with their applications. Thank goodness, she was staying with a good Microsoft friend Kristin Tolle whose husband is a doctor.  After Rane was feeling weak and fell into Kristin’s arms, her husband told Rane she needed to go home immediately and see a neurologist.    

Rane had made an appointment while at Microsoft, and we went straight to the neurologist.  After a number of tests, we were lucky Rane did not appear to have any major brain issues besides post concussive syndrome and was ordered to take two weeks with no screen time and complete bed rest.  The doctor then let us know she should not have done the hackathon or worked.  Hindsight is 20/20.  As Rane’s supporters and friends you know she did not consider her cellphone as screen time and continued to answer emails and take calls.  This we would later find postponed her recovery.  Her eyesight and focusing abilities diminished to that of an eight-year-old, that after having 20/20 vision all her life prior to the head injuries.  Rane had to get glasses and go to eye therapy with an ophthalmologist to train her eyes to help her brain so she could finally get back to work.   

Rane continued to experience a lot of nausea, migraines, inability to focus, word searching, memory issues and continued to get worse and not better.  After two weeks off, she went back to work and traveled to Michigan to be a keynote speaker at the Women In Computing Conference.  While on the plane she got very sick and had to call the conference organizer to ask them to pick her up from the airport as she could not drive.  The organizer was very nice and picked Rane up and had her stay the weekend at her home.  Of course, she did her keynote and additional talks and meetings at the University.   

When she got home, she was an absolute disaster.  She was then forced to take 6 months off by her doctor and that’s when we first encountered the challenges with insurance companies and concussions.  Instead of granting Rane her short-term disability after four doctors had said she cannot work, the Insurance Company doctors said she was fine and did not have enough cognitive impairment to warrant short term disability.  She was forced to take unpaid medical leave.  It was a very stressful situation and did not help in Rane’s recovery.  We had no idea how bad concussions were and as soon as Rane felt almost 100% she hurried back to work.  She continued her crazy schedule and was off to Universities and Conferences around the world.  Never slowing down.   

If I knew then what I know now, I would have hidden her computers and cellphone and not let her return to work so quickly and especially fly all over the world.  

So, this leads Rane and I to describe what we’ve learned going through this process and hopefully some of the lessons that may help other people in similar situations.  This has been a five-year ordeal.  Here are three actions spouse’s supporting concussion/TBI survivors should consider: 

  1. For many caregivers, the hardest thing is finding some time and space to take care of their own health and needs. You will feel you can never leave your spouse alone and always worried about what if… It is okay to get away!  At first it may only be 30 minutes, then half a day, then you’ll feel okay finding a friend to stay with your spouse so you can get away for a few days and clear your head, you need this for your sanity!  If you are not healthy, you can’t take care of your loved one. 
  2. It is hard to get use to the emotional rollercoaster your spouse will have—one minute they are happy, the next easily hurt and upset, the next angry and ready to explode.  It will be hard, the anger will be overwhelming at times.  You will want to yell back, “What did I do this time?  You are really over reacting!”  Trust me that doesn’t help.  Learn to walk away, let it go and go meditate for 15 minutes.  BREATHE.  Remember, their brain can no longer control their emotions.
  3. Possessiveness and controlling behavior becomes instinct as you are caring for your spouse, it is hard to let go as they are getting better you are worried the worse can happen.  In the beginning this is a must, your spouse will get frustrated and mad at you often but don’t stop.  There will become a time in the healing process when you do need to let go.  Ultimately, you must trust they know their body and allow them to be the adult they are and make decisions on their own.   

This is the first of 10-part series, keep coming back to learn how to manage life with TBI or what not to do so you don’t get TBI.  Some of the future blog posts may include the following topics: 

  • Concussions & Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and symptoms – What I’ve learned from lots of doctors and therapists and my own experience 
  • Vasovagal syncope- what doctors believe is the cause of my blackout episodes 
  • Learning patience and how Type ‘A’s can slow down before their bodies force them 
  • Finding solace in crafting (and the fun of gifting my creations away) and the joy of arts in healing 
  • The power and relaxation/healing benefits from audiobooks (my top ten books) 
  • Importance of meditation and great outdoors for healing 
  • Need for good nutrition in recovering from TBI 
  • Dealing with Insurance Providers effectively, what they don’t tell you 
  • There is Life after Microsoft 
  • Learning a New Normal  and Finding a (New) Life’s Purpose  

*Hackathon definition from Google- an event, typically lasting several days, in which a large number of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming. 

Out in Tech kicks off in Bend

It is an exciting time to be part of the Technology Community in Central Oregon, especially if you are LGBTQ. Many don’t realize that in the State of Oregon, 5% of the population is LGBTQ which would mean about 4,500 Bendites are LGBTQ! In the state of Oregon, we are also one of 16 states that score high in “policy tally” counts the number of positive laws and policies within the state that help drive equality for LGBT people. The major categories of laws covered by the policy tally include: Marriage and Relationship Recognition, Adoption and Parenting, Non-Discrimination, Safe Schools, Health and Safety, and Ability for Transgender People to Correct the Name and Gender Marker on Identity Documents.
When Executive Director of BendTech, Tim Riefke contacted me on helping with the launch of Out in Tech for Central Oregon. I was excited to be part of the event and the future of the community. As many of you know, I am super passionate about inclusivity in Bend (if you haven’t read our story on the Inclusive Innovation Initiative check it out). We know that more diverse teams bring new perspectives and drive greater innovations! As technology companies across the world focus on diversifying and becoming more inclusive, what a great time to join the industry. When speaking to Tim, he identifies as being Queer and why Out in Tech is so important for Bend. “At BendTech, we want to create an inclusive workplace that all people can feel welcome and find opportunities to connect and collaborate in the burgeoning tech/start-up community,” exclaimed Tim Riefke.
When I look at opportunities for our growing youth population in Bend and people who are under-employed looking for a career switch, I always talk about technology opportunities. I have been lucky to have a 20-year career in the industry that has taken me all over the world, solving amazing challenges to help communities, countries, companies and organizations. What is so exciting for LGBTQ Bendites is our technology industry is young. It is working extremely hard to do it right in the beginning, that is why Technology Association of Oregon in partnership with all the technology companies kicked off the Diversity Leadership Series and COCC SBDC’s free diversity advising the last Thursday of every month to help our companies understand the importance of inclusivity and why every voice matters in our companies.
Looking at our next generation of technology employees and leaders, I was excited to work with Constance and Michael who are interns at BendTech around this event. When asking them why tech and why now, here is what they said, “It’s great that Bend is informal, friendly and people are willing to go out of their way to help you and help you navigate the Bend Tech Scene. It’s a great time to be part of Tech,” replied Michael Tornatta and Constance Smith.
At the event tonight, we kicked off with of course, pizza and beer Bend style with friendly informal networking. We then jumped into a discussion with an amazing panel to discuss LGBTQ opportunities in Bend Tech scene: Julie Harrelson (Cascade Angels Fund Manager), James Nesbitt, PhD (Genetech/Alector Intellectual Property), Eric Norths (First Interstate Bank), Tim Riefke (BendTech), and Beth Hannon (Beth Hannon Marketing). It was exciting to hear all the positive stories and the community coming together to be more inclusive and want to better support the LGBTQ community in Oregon.
One of my favorite quotes of the evening came from Julie Harrelson, when a student asked does it get old to always be tokenized as an LGBTQ leader in the community to the panel and will this ever change? Julie highlighted, “I don’t look at being tokenized or asked to represent as always being a bad thing. It can be the community wanting to better understand your perspective and gives an opportunity to take a leadership role in education and change.”
I love that answer! So many times, I have spoken with fellow leaders in under-represented groups feeling tired, burnt-out and frustrated stating, “does it always have to be my job to teach everyone the perspective of my group.” But instead of getting frustrated, we should feel honored and look at it as a learning opportunity! At least people want your perspective from the community you represent and believe you are the best representative they know to provide it. Things could be worse and people could not care or ask for that perspective at all. It is all of our job for people coming from under-represented groups to be open to share our perspectives and be excited that people want to listen. 
The event closed with some fun activities to get people connected, with Oz Smith meeting the most people and taking home our prized new Out in Tech painting. The unanimous decision for the group is to have our next meeting in September to support LGBTQ mentorship and sponsorship. So keep your eyes out and join us for our next event after your Summer vacations.

A leaders greatest gift is vulnerability

Many times, leaders believe we have to be seen as fearless, strong, and all knowing.  We often think showing any sign of vulnerability indicates weakness.  However, author David Williams points out in his Forbes article that, “In reality, vulnerability is a strength.  Every leader has vulnerability. The greatest leaders have the self-awareness to recognize this fact. They also recognize that showing their vulnerability is a sign of courage and strength.”  In his book, courage is the sixth ‘Non-Negotiable’ that he covers in his book The 7 Non-Negotiables of Winning. 

I find this notion to be true and have included it as one of the themes in my keynote.  I presented this speech at the Bend Chamber 2018 Women of the Year Awards.   Sometimes we need to share stories that we don’t want to admit to help current and future leaders.  So after struggling with traumatic brain injury (TBI) the last five years, I briefly shared my story with the audience of nominees, award winners and Bendites.

 

I have spent my career as a Type A, workaholic, altruistic, high achieving leader trying to solve difficult problems for my industry, company, employees, mentees and colleagues.  I truly believed I could run my body like a machine and travel 3 weeks a month, work 10-18-hour days, survive on 2-4 hours of sleep while doing my day job and volunteering to lead committees for the White House, UN Women, and actively participate on 12 non-profit boards, volunteer for local community activities, be a good friend, and wife.  This all came crashing down in February 2013 when my body forced me to take an unplanned medical leave of absence.  I will go into that story in more detail in my next set of blogs. I want to focus here on the message that leaders need to share that we are not invincible.  We can’t keep driving at a crazy fast speed, with focused accuracy for a long stretch and not result in a disaster.     

In my keynote, I focused on two major areas, my childhood and upbringing that brought me to this intense drive, ambition and desire to make an impact no matter the cost.  Secondly, the need for leaders to say it’s okay to give us some ‘white space’ in our lives and ask for help.  I’ve now launched a new company focused on helping start-ups, small and medium size businesses, organizations and government agencies to harness inclusive innovation for their competitive advantage.  Many times, these groups are lean and may not have the resources to understand how to ensure they are diverse enough to meet the needs of their customers. Also, they must ask themselves if they are running the as efficiently as possible and utilizing all of their employees’ capabilities.   

Most diversity and inclusion consulting is priced out of reach for these organizations even though 80% of our working population in Bend works for these groups.  So creating an affordable, consumable framework has created a ton of interest for Ranemaker Institute in helping Bend aspire to be one of the most inclusive cities in America.  At the same time, I have had to learn to be honest about my current vulnerabilities so I don’t fall ill again.      

I can’t take on every company, organization or governmental agency I want to help.  My TBI has restricted how much time I can spend on a computer, working with large groups of people and the amount of stress I can handle.  I can’t work a normal work week and I still take a 2-3 hour nap daily.   I focus now on asking for help, only having a client a month and my workshop series.  I balance my ego’s need for making an impact and helping businesses in Central Oregon with time outdoors, relaxing, painting, reading and napping.  I think it is important for us to show we can still be successful, make significant impact in our community and have a healthy life balance.  We just need to realize that impact may not be instantaneous but takes a lot more time.  I have learned not to start the race with a sprint but keep a steady may be even slow pace for its entirety as our life is a marathon that we want to enjoy for a long time.  I don’t want to drop out before I’ve lived to a ripe old age.   So next time you feel you are exhausted and just need to finish one more thing, may be you need to take a mental health day instead, a few minutes of meditation and enjoy an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm for a good laugh.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rane Stempson: Helping Central Oregon Startups and More Create Diverse, Inclusive Workplaces

Thank you Kelly Kearsley, reposted from Startupbend Community visit their site.

 

So Teri approached me and asked if I would help develop a equity, diversity and leadership workshop series targeted at startups and small businesses that would offer practical knowledge on these topics at an affordable price? As the former principal research director for Microsoft, I focused on diversity and specifically bring more underrepresented groups into computing, so this was in my wheelhouse. I opened the Ranemaker Institute and began developing the TAO workshop series, researching, and working with the City of Bend and the Bend Chamber on how we could better support our City’s equity needs.

 

As a result, TAO launched the Diversity Leadership Series a few months ago. These workshops, which I lead, are for all industry sectors not just technology and provide hands on learning for our businesses, non-profits and government agencies at an affordable price. The workshops will help employees, managers and senior leaders determine how to deal with unconscious biases, harassment, recruitment, retention and advancement of a diverse workforce, managing across generations and a number of other topics to help businesses better serve their customers and increase employee satisfaction.

 

There’s been other progress as well. The City of Bend passed a unanimous resolution on March 7th to aspire to be the most inclusive city in Oregon and in America. Bend also wants to be proactive in supporting our growing community. Most of our population in Central Oregon works for businesses with less than 100 people. These businesses create goods and services that must meet the needs of a diverse population that either visits the region or is distributed globally. I launched the Inclusive Innovation Initiative to provide a committee to tackle difficult equity and inclusion issues facing our city, the workshop series and free advising.

 

I’ve also been offering advising hours to start-ups and small businesses via the SBDC at COCC. I’ll be advising businesses on issues such as diversity, inclusion and equity. I’ll also provide support for under-represented groups considering starting a new business. You can schedule a meeting today. 

When we suggest we need to expand organizational diversity it doesn’t mean ‘affirmative action’ per se. Instead it often means looking at the broader definition. Asking ourselves, do we have members on our team that are adding value because of their different race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status, veteran status, abilities, age, skill set, knowledge, culture, education, and training? Do these members push us to think, approach problems, and create solutions in different ways.

 

Bend is growing at an exceptionally fast rate, and our region’s diversity is growing. Inclusion helps us recognize that everyone’s voice and opinion matter and there are different strategies we should take to ensure each voice has the same level of importance. In speaking with organizations, I explain that, “Most people have good intentions and with a little education, such as utilizing strategies to better connect, we can work more effectively with each other and remove a lot of misunderstandings.

Especially in the technology community, we have a lot of equity and inclusion issues. And while we are driving so hard to innovate before the next person, we forget the time we need to invest in our innovative teams to ensure they are performing at their best.” We understand the importance of technical training but often forget the soft skills is what is necessary to really drive innovative teams and successful companies utilizing the full potential of all their employees.

Check out the next course in the diversity series workshop. You can also catch me at the next City Club forum on June 21. I’ll be moderating a panel on Gender Partnerships in the Workplace: Where We Have Been, Where We Can Be. You can schedule a meeting today. for free small business advising in diversity.

Time to Require Corporations to be Socially Responsible

Reposted from LinkedIn Article

It is time we make our corporations be more accountable to ethical and social responsibilities. Expectations for reduced expenses, increased profits and higher bonuses to executives and greater returns for stockholders can’t be derived at the detriment of employees and increased burden to taxpayers. I just finished reading Elizabeth Warren’s book, “This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class ,” and it left me feeling an urgent need to do something!

I grew up as a second generation Asian American with a father on social security at an early retirement from civil engineering and military service. This required my stay at home mother to go to work and be a minimum wage housekeeper since she could not read and write English. To my surprise today, with this meager income of less than twenty-five thousand dollars a year, my family was able to support two children, a home mortgage and pay all our bills in a small bedroom community of Portland, Oregon called Vancouver, WA. We were by no means rich but we weren’t super poor either. I enjoyed playing sports, being on student government, singing in choir, having lots of friends in different classes, genders and ethnicities, having great healthcare at Kaiser Permanente and no stigma of being a poor person of color. We were a lower middle-class family. Today, we would be in poverty. We would not own a home but rent, visiting the food bank, struggle with healthcare, be challenged keeping up with bills and probably could only pay for clothing at Goodwill. It is a travesty that someone working a full-time minimum wage job with a spouse that served our country can’t afford to live and make ends meet. We must fix this as Americans!

See the source image

I want to quote a few paragraphs’ from Mrs. Warren’s book, …

“Gina says she feels lucky to have a job, but she is pretty blunt about what it is like to work at Walmart: she hates it. She’s worked at her local Walmart for nine years, spending long hours on her feet waiting on customers and wrestling with heavy merchandise around the store. But that is not the part that galls her.

Last year, management told the employees they would get a significant raise. While driving to work or sorting laundry, Gina thought about how she could spend that extra money. Do repairs around the house. Or set aside a few dollars in case an emergency. Or help her sons, because “that’s what a mom does.”… 

Then the day arrives when she received the letter informing her of the raise: 21 cents an hour. For a grand total of $1.68 a day, $8.40 a week.

Gina described holding the letter and looking at it and feeling like it was “a spit in your face.” As she talked about the minuscule raise, her voice filled with anger. Anger, tinged with fear. Walmart could dump all over her, but she would have to take it. She still needed this job. They could treat her like dirt, and she would still have to show up. And that is exactly what they did.

In 2015, Walmart made $14.69 billion in profits and Walmart’s investors pocketed $10.4 billion from dividends and shareholder repurchases—and Gina got 21 cents an hour more. This isn’t a story of shared sacrifice. It’s not a story about a company that is struggling to keep the doors open in tough times. This isn’t a small business that can’t afford generous raises. Just the opposite: this is a fabulously wealthy company making big bucks off the Ginas of the world. 

There are seven members of the Walton family, Walmart’s major shareholders, on the Forbes list of the country’s four hundred richest people, and together these seven Walton’s have as much wealth as about 130 million Americans… Walmart routinely squeezes its workers, not because it has to, but because it can…

Walmart is the largest employer in the country. More than a million and a half Americans are working to make this corporation among the most profitable in the world. Meanwhile, Gina points out that at her store, “almost all the young people are on food stamps.” And its not just her store. Across the country, Walmart pays such low wages that many of its employees rely on food stamps, rent assistance, Medicaid, and a mix of other government benefits, just to stay out of poverty. 

The next time you drive into a Walmart parking lot, pause a second to note Walmart—like the more than five thousand other Walmarts in the country—costs taxpayers about $1 million in direct subsidies to the employees who don’t earn enough money to pay for an apartment, buy food, or get even the most basic health care for their children. In total, Walmart benefits from more than $7 billion in subsidies each year from taxpayers like you. Those “low, low prices” are made possible by low, low wages—and the taxes you pay to keep those workers alive on their low, low pay…

Walmart isn’t alone. Every year, employers like retailers and fast food outlets pay wages that are so low that the rest of America ponies up a collective $153 billion to subsidize their workers. Anyone want to guess what we could do with that mountain of money? We could pay public college tuition- free and pay for preschool for every child- and still have billions left over. We could almost double the amount we spend on veteran’s services, such as disability, long-term care, and end homelessness. We could double all federal research and development—everything: medical, scientific, engineering, climate science, behavioral heath, chemistry, brain mapping, dug addiction, even defense research. Or we could double federal spending on transportation and water infrastructure…

Gina describes life at Walmart is a constant fight to get enough hours to support her family. Walmart deliberately over hires, which then puts workers in competition for shifts. Even though she has worked at her Walmart for nearly a decade, she doesn’t get her work schedule far enough in advance to plan a trip to the dentist. And she doesn’t know how many hours she will get each week and if she will have enough money to cover the basics…She talks about a friend who is trying to support herself and little boy on a Walmart paycheck. She needs more hours. She was trying to do better, so she was taking classes at the community college at night. Nicole was available every day and five evenings every week, but she needed Tuesday and Thursday nights off, so she could go to class. They wouldn’t give it to her. They use the schedule as punishment… Gina and her friend feels like their positions at the company are always unsteady…”

I hope you are outraged and furious! I understand that there are many people in our great Nation who cannot afford to stop shopping at Walmart, but we can make them hurt. We can show them that they cannot have these practices and still have a loyal customer base. We must force them to act ethically, morally and socially responsible as an American company. The only way they will do this is if their bottom line is affected. MY CALL TO ACTION IS: Tell all your friends, family and acquaintances that the last Friday of the month we all boycott Walmart. That every last Friday of the month, Walmart will be open and not have one customer or sale in the estimated over 5000 stores. This will incur millions of dollars of lost revenues for Walmart and require them to proactively do something! If we hold all minimum wage corporations accountable in the same way, we can begin to see a difference for a large portion of our American middle-class population. No American who is working hard, doing all the right things should live in poverty in this day and age. PLEASE STAND WITH ME IN OUTRAGE, share this story with your friends and please BOYCOTT Walmart the last FRIDAY of every month! Thank you, Elizabeth Warren for getting this information out!

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

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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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