Berkeley’s FLIPalliance for Diversity

EECS FLIP Alliance

When Dan Garcia first attended UC Berkeley as a graduate student, he was amazed at the many different faces and key spaces that make up the world’s top public research university.  “I can’t imagine being anywhere else,” says Garcia, adding that part of what makes Berkeley special is the confluence of its diverse urban setting, large size, and a campus culture that fosters and celebrates diversity.  25 years later, as a professor, Garcia is passionate about broadening participation in computer science: his nationally-recognized course The Beauty and Joy of Computing regularly enrolls more than 50% female students. “If you want to move the needle on CS diversity, come join us at Berkeley,” he advises, on the heels of Berkeley joining an NSF-funded program to diversify Future Leadership in the Professoriate (FLIPalliance.org). The alliance, consisting of eleven top Computer Science departments that produce over half of new under-represented minority (URM) CS faculty, aims to quickly and radically change the demographic diversity of the CS professoriate by sharing best practices for recruiting, retaining, and developing URM graduate students at member institutions.

Berkeley is already the largest producer of URM CS faculty (including two FLIP Alliance directors, Prof. Jeff Forbes of Duke University and Prof. Valerie Taylor of the University of Chicago but is eager to attract talented graduate students. “With less than 5% of CS faculty coming from underrepresented groups, the field is leaving a tremendous amount of talent on the table,”  says Prof. Armando Fox, who also serves as Diversity Officer for CS graduate admissions and as a Campus Equity Advisor.  “The pride of our Computer Science division is the collegial, collaborative, and welcoming atmosphere here that sets up our community members for success.” As an example, Fox cites a Spanish-language keynote talk he rehearsed in front of LAGSES (Latinx Association of Graduate Students in Engineering and Science): the polished formal talk was so well received that his work in computer science education now reaches a strong collaborative network throughout the Spanish-speaking world.  New Berkeley faculty member Anca Dragan, an MIT Technology Review “35 Innovators Under 35” rising star working at the intersection of robotics and human-computer interaction, agrees that Berkeley’s collaborative atmosphere “goes far beyond co-advised students and papers with multiple faculty authors. From day one, people have been looking out for me, from help with grant-writing to nominating me for awards.”

“We recognize that we have a lot of work still to do,” cautions Prof. Anthony Joseph, a faculty researcher on the team that invented Apache Spark. “But our efforts are broad and deep—besides institutional initiatives such as FLIP, we’re especially proud of ‘grassroots’ programs by our own students.” One such program, EECS Peers, was co-founded by Ph.D. alumni Gireeja Ranade, currently a Researcher at Microsoft Research AI who will be joining the Berkeley faculty next year, and Kristin Stephens-Martinez, who has just joined the faculty at Duke. “During grad school, I felt very supported by the consistent fellowship of the weekly lunches of Women in Computer Science and Engineering, as well as the Big Sister/Little Sister program that pairs incoming women graduate students with more senior graduate women,” says Stephens-Martinez. “EECS Peers aims to provide an even broader support network for all EECS graduate students.” Berkeley students who now lead these programs presented at this year’s Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing, where Berkeley routinely fields the largest contingent of students and faculty.

David Culler, interim Dean of Berkeley’s newly-created Division of Data Sciences and the first Berkeley faculty member to join FLIP leadership, wants prospective applicants to know that “in the last 10 years we’ve had 276 women and URM students accept offers of graduate admissions in EECS, all with full funding. We want you to be next, and you can start by going to Berkeley.FLIPalliance.org.”  Go Bears!