Climate Change, News and politics, Organizations, Volunteer Work

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?

otterrockreserve

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.

SevereStarFish

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.

countingimage

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.

tidepool guide.JPG

Girls and Technology

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

Girls and Technology, Inclusion

Scholarships to Increase Gender Diversity in Computer Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research

Learn more

Girls and Technology, Organizations

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

Learn more

Girls and Technology, Inclusion

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

Learn more