exploreCSR grant helps UW-Madison Computer Sciences provide research opportunities to underrepresented students

Jelena Diakonikolas headshot
Jelena Diakonikolas

Computer Sciences professors Jelena Diakonikolas and Shivaram Venkataraman have been awarded an exploreCSR grant from Google to encourage underrepresented students at the undergraduate level to pursue CS research and apply to graduate programs. Diakonikolas and Venkataraman plan to use the grant to host two workshops: the first during spring semester 2021, and the second at the end of the summer term in August 2021. During the August workshop, student participants will present their research projects to UW-Madison faculty, PhD students, and alumni from local tech companies. 

The statistics demonstrate the need for actively pursuing an increase in participation in research by students from underrepresented and minority backgrounds. At the moment, among the undergraduate students who register for independent study at UW-Madison, only about 18% are female, while in the past six years only one African American student has registered for it. “We view this program as the first step towards changing this disheartening statistic,” Diakonikolas and Venkataraman said. 

Shivaram Venkataraman headshot
Shivaram Venkataraman

To prepare for the August presentation of research, students will be matched to a current UW-Madison PhD student based on their expressed research interests and will meet with faculty mentors. WACM (student chapter of ACM-W, the Association for Computing Machinery’s Council on Women in Computing) will co-host monthly meetings, and the CS Department will support student applications for summer research internships.

Diakonikolas and Venkataraman have even bigger plans for increasing diversity in UW-Madison CS research. They would like these workshops to serve as a pilot program to be scaled up and extended in future years. To that end, they will survey participants regularly and use their feedback for implementing future programs. 

They note, “It is encouraging that in recent years we also see less stereotypical depictions of computer scientists in popular culture and media (for example, not every computer scientist we see in movies and TV shows is a geeky young male programmer or a middle-aged male professor), but there is still a long way to go.” Awards like exploreCSR help UW-Madison Computer Sciences achieve a more inclusive undergraduate research program.