Faculty Recruiting Support CICS

Message from the Dean — Women's History Month 2023

Laura Haas
Laura Haas

Each year during Women's History Month, we celebrate the women who have shaped our world, such as chemist Ellen Swallow Richards, who became the first woman to gain admittance to MIT in 1871, and became an instructor there in 1874. Just three years later, Richards and her assistants at MIT were asked by the Massachusetts State Board of Health to perform a water quality survey of the commonwealth’s inland water bodies. Their study, the first of its kind in the United States, led to the establishment of the first state water-quality standards in the country and the creation of the first modern municipal sewage treatment plant in Lowell, Massachusetts.

As the dean of a college with such a vibrant community of women who are established and emerging scientists of computing, I believe that I see women’s history in the making every day.

At this year’s Hack(H)er413 [if our web article is ready, we should link there], 300 women and nonbinary attendees representing more than 80 schools, 45 different majors, and 19 countries spent 24 hours learning new technical skills, interviewing with sponsor employers, and—most importantly—hacking. In one winning project, CICS undergrad Emma Azzi and teammates used computer vision and machine learning techniques to accurately translate American Sign Language into English text and display the result as subtitles over video of the speaker. This is the kind of application of computing that can have a real impact on our world and exemplifies our college’s ethos of Computing for the Common Good.

There are more upcoming events for women and nonbinary students to shine. On April 7, the third annual student-run Voices of Data Science conference, sponsored by the college’s Center for Data Science, will bring together an inclusive community with a shared vision of using data science for the common good, with a special focus on celebrating the success of women (cis and trans) and nonbinary data scientists. And in September, we expect to send sizeable contingents of students to the Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing conference in Dallas, and the Grace Hopper Celebration in Orlando.

Here on campus, our women-led student organizations lead the way in building a computing community that includes voices of all genders, identities, and backgrounds: Women in Informatics and Computer Science for undergrads, CSWomen for graduate students and faculty, and a new UMass chapter of Girls Who Code.

From my perspective, we’ve come a long way in computing. I was one of three women undergrads in computer science when I attended Harvard and the only woman among 30 system researchers at IBM when I started there. We still don’t have enough students who are women or of diverse gender identities at CICS, or in the industry, but we are getting there—this year’s first-year class is 38% women, up from about 22% in previous years. Women’s history is human history, including computing history. Let’s make it together.

Laura Haas
Dean, Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences