Faculty Recruiting Support CICS

Trim Awarded exploreCSR Google Grant for Program to Engage Underrepresented Students in Research

Michelle Trim

Michelle Trim, senior lecturer II and associate director of the informatics program at the UMass Amherst College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS), has been selected to receive a 2020 Google exploreCSR award to fund the development of a student engagement workshop program, Energizing Mentoring and Broadening Exposure to Research (EMBER).

The proposed program will provide research opportunities to 30 undergraduate students from CICS and neighboring women’s institution Mount Holyoke College, targeting populations underrepresented in computing, including Latinx, African American, American Indian or Indigenous, and LGBTQIA+ students.

According to Trim, studies have shown that students who are first-generation or from populations underrepresented in computing are less likely to pursue graduate degrees after graduation, often due to a lack of exposure during their schooling. EMBER aims to increase experience in research environments for these students, inspiring them to see themselves pursuing careers in computing research. 

The EMBER experience will have at its core a one-credit course for participants, Introduction to Research Methods in Computing, teaching topics that will include cultivating curiosity, summarizing findings, visualizing data, forming hypotheses, and developing collaboration strategies. In addition, participants will have access to several social and networking events, small-group writing support for doctoral program and fellowship applications, and a trip to the ACM Richard Tapia Conference, all with mentor support from PhD students.

These PhD mentors—six in total—will attend a training session informed by best practices for mentoring underrepresented students in STEM, using the MaGE curriculum, developed at Mount Holyoke College by a team led by Heather Pon-Barry, Mount Holyoke College associate professor and CICS adjunct professor. 

“This training on building emotional intelligence and working with diverse student populations will be crucial to helping our PhD student mentors connect with the EMBER undergraduates and give them options for imagining research careers in computing,” says Trim. “I also expect that this experience will enable our PhD student volunteers to be better, more inclusive mentors as they pursue their own careers.”

In addition to the PhD student mentors, EMBER will be implemented through the coordinated efforts of CICS faculty and staff. Associate Professor and EMBER co-leader Dan Sheldon, Heather Pon-Barry, Professor Eliot Moss, and Distinguished University Professor Jim Kurose will provide content and leadership during the mentored research experience. Research-oriented faculty will develop and lead a lab-sponsored, independent research project for participants, and contribute to workshop sessions devoted to research-related skills.

Erika Dawson-Head, EMBER co-leader and director of diversity and inclusive community development, Brian Krusell, director of career services, and Justin Obara, director of the CICS Writing Center, will provide the training aspects of the workshop program, leading sessions on developing self-efficacy, networking, and communication skills. These will include a combination of practical, social, and research-related topics, with a particular focus on building confidence and helping students to become resilient. 

After an initial proof-of-concept year, Trim hopes to sustain and expand EMBER to reach more students in CICS and other colleges in the area.

Since 2018, the Google exploreCSR awards have supported universities to design and host research-focused workshops during the academic year for students from underrepresented groups.