Computer science research addresses problems that affect all of our lives, from producing better flood forecasts to live captions and more. To ensure that CS research explores the issues that affect all communities, the researchers themselves need to be representative of those communities But in 2018, less than 25 percent of computer science PhD degrees in the United States were awarded to researchers from groups historically underrepresented in technology.
As part of our efforts to broaden participation in CS research careers and make them more accessible to everyone, we accepted 37 outstanding undergraduates to Google’s CS Research Mentorship Program (CSRMP) this fall. The program encourages students to pursue graduate and doctorate-level CS studies by matching them with Google mentors. As the students work toward their goals, they attend a CS research conference and travel to Mountain View as guests for the PhD Fellowship Summit.
We caught up with Sam Steinberg, a junior in Information Science at Cornell University, to learn about her journey to the program and what she wants to accomplish with CS research.
What led you to CS?
At six years old, I walked into my room and threw the family laptop onto the ceramic floor. I wanted to see its insides, and there they were: circuits, capacitors, resistors and motors scattered like cookie crumbs across the ground. While my parents were certainly upset about the mess I made (sorry mom and dad!), I was in awe, and that’s how my love affair with technology began.
What were some defining moments in your CS journey?
In high school, I was the only girl in my CS classes. After a Girls Who Code summer program, I started a club at my school. I found that so much of learning difficulty doesn’t have to do with the content, but the environment in which you absorb material. In the Girls Who Code club, I felt undaunted to ask questions, work alongside my peers, and help teach other girls.
One of the most humbling moments was being named the inaugural winner of The Society of Women Engineers SWENext Award. As a young Latina aspiring to work in tech, it was eye-opening to learn about the discrepancies in retention for minorities in STEM. SWE has helped further instill my passion for advocating about the importance of gender and ethinic diversity in STEM fields.
Why are you interested in CS research?
I’m a 5 foot 2 Puerto Rican Jew with a lisp, and the career aspirations of Shuri, the female engineer from Black Panther. Like any Marvel hero, I want to change the world, but not by shooting laser beams to defeat the bad guys. I’ve always been fascinated with how technology can be used as a tool to help others, especially how those with cognitive and learning disabilities can maintain focus and relaxation in school and daily life.
What do you hope to accomplish during the CS Research Mentorship Program?
My latest project is called illuMATE, a bracelet designed for children with autism and other developmental disabilities that monitors heart rate via an Arduino pulse sensor. When it detects a spike in heart rate, it sends a series of customizable vibrations down the child’s wrist to help them relax. Touch-pressure and vibration technology has been clinically proven to help those with autism de-stress. My goal with CSRMP is to work with my mentor Rachel to further develop my project and framework with supporting research, and learn more about how product management works at Google.
We are humbled to support such exceptional students as they pursue CS research careers. Look for these 37 names in future headlines as they confront our greatest challenges (and solve them).