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23 February 2021

An Interview with Patricia Ordóñez , #Tapia2021 Program Chair

Patricia Ordóñez  is the 2021 CMD-IT/ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference Program Chair and Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras.  We spoke to Patti about what is new this year for her and the 2021 Tapia Conference.  You can learn more about her background in her 2020 interview.

Tell me what you are working on these days?

One of the new things I am working on is an Online Data Science Certification in Spanish from the University of Puerto Rico.  The first class is a project-based learning class that is focused on collaboration techniques and programming for data science.  The course will get people from different disciplines and abilities to work together on real world problems, so it is very focused on interdisciplinary collaboration.  The course will help people develop software engineering skills and by the end they will all be working on projects of their own.   What I like is that the training projects include a culturally relevant biology project including one on how to estimate hurricane mortality from hurricanes such as Hurricane Maria. The second course will be a statistical methods class. It is critical to focus on math and statistics to be successful in Data Science.  It is all the culmination of a five-year project focused on developing a data science program.

I am also working on projects with multivariate data analysis using sound to determine the best parameters and hyper parameters for classifying biomedical data.

I am also very focused on education in Puerto Rico.  I’m working with Expanding Computing Education Pathways, CSTA Puerto Rico Chapter, the Puerto Rico Science Trust and others to create interest and build policy to get high caliber computing courses into the curriculum into all public and private schools.  During Covid-19 we have been working to engage K-5 children in computer science and make it fun.  We had to focus on developing programs in mobile apps on phones because many families don’t own computers.  This is a new national initiative at the elementary school level named CS is elementary

What did you learn from last year’s virtual Tapia?

I think we all learned that a lot of people were feeling very isolated during the pandemic. Many people felt they were the only ones – In fact, you and I did a Birds of a Feather session on being the first and the only and we were both surprised how many people attended.  We were very focused on building a community online.  We also learned that we need to focus much more on engagement, which is why we have created an Engagement Committee this year.  We want people to be able to find other people like themselves and help them bond over that.

I also learned you really can’t do a dance party over Zoom unless you can show a lot of people on screen. Otherwise, it gets really boring. Since I had really pushed for the dance party, I danced to the very end.  It’s why I want to find new and different ways to engage people.  I would love to find way to highlight the cultures of our target populations and have rooms where people can get together and discuss and learn about them.

The Call for Participation has opened – what sort of topics/talks would you be excited to see this year?

We are trying to do more this year for all our target populations.  We really want to get more content for our Native American attendees and women of color.  I would also love to see content about Quantum Computing and AI Education for Minority Serving Institutions. 

I would also like to see us begin to address what is happening to majority minority serving institutions in low income communities that are being left behind in the digital economy.  In Puerto Rico, I have students having to take classes on their phones because they can’t go to school during the pandemic, they have to work or they have a bad internet connection.  How do we build bridges for universities in low-income areas, how do we reach poor rural communities?  I have faculty members that have children who haven’t been to school in a year.  We need to get all our teachers and faculty to join the digital era.  How do we retrain people who have lost their jobs to be part of the digital economy?  I would love to see talks on how we use the challenges created by the pandemic to make this change happen.

This year ‘s theme celebrates 20 years of Tapia.  What are you excited about?

I’m really hoping that many of the people that have attended the conference in the past will come back to us.  I love seeing people from the beginning of Tapia and reconnect with them.

What do you hope the next 20 years will bring for Diversity in Computing?

I hope there will be access for all.  That’s my goal and passion.  I want to see more women in tech, more of everyone – I want tech to look like all of America.  We have so many children in poverty whose lives could be turned around by tech and we would be able to uplift their whole family if we get to them early enough.  In 20 years, I hope we will have a strong median income and that disparity between rural and urban communities will be gone in terms of having access to high quality education and healthcare.