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28 May 2020

An Interview with Quincy Brown, Tapia 2020 General Chair

Quincy Brown

Quincy Brown is the Tapia 2020 General Chair, Co-Founder of blackcomputeHER.org, and the Director of Engagement and Research at AnitaB.org. We spoke to Quincy about her career and her experience with the Tapia Conference.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Bronx, NY. I participated in a gifted and talented program starting in the first grade with children from all backgrounds and was part of a multicultural cohort that was together until the 8th grade. This program helped me develop a love for math and science.

How did you get into Computer Science?

I attended the Bronx High School of Science and learned about Electrical Engineering at a Coast Guard Academy summer program. After high school I attended North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University and wanted to be a hardware engineer. My previous exposure to electrical engineering combined with the fact that I was intrigued by circuits and circuit design, helped me to figure out that I wanted to major in Electrical Engineering. As an EE major, my first programming classes were Assembly and Fortran. When I graduated, I worked in the private industry as an electrical engineer and began to do more software programming including designing graphical user interfaces (GUIs) designs for circuit board testing and missile and radar systems.

While working in the industry I started a Software Engineering executive master’s degree program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. At the time my daughters were 3 and 6 years old and I thought I had my career neatly planned. However, a year in the program my job went through a reduction in force that left me suddenly unemployed. While trying to figure out what to do next I decided to pursue my interest in gaming and Intelligent Tutoring Systems by enrolling in the Computer Science PhD program at Drexel University. My advisors had backgrounds in computer science, gaming, and cognitive psychology. Through coursework and research, I became interested in how the brain processes information. My research focused on behavioral modeling and mobile learning and I focused my dissertation research on creating intelligent tutoring systems for handheld devices, e.g. Palm Pilots, and early handheld devices. Despite the challenges associated with having a young family while a full-time student, I was determined to complete the program and successfully earned my PhD in 2009. After finishing my degree at Drexel, I was a CI Fellow Postdoc at the University of Maryland College Park where I joined KidsTeam and learned co-design research methods while designing technology for kids with kids. During this time I learned a lot about the differences between how children and adults engage with devices, for example it was harder for children to press and drag on devices.

What did you do after your Postdoc?

In 2010, I joined Bowie State University in Maryland as an Assistant Professor of Computer Science. While starting my Games+Mobile: Play, Learn, Live research lab, I also created Girls Who Will, a summer program for middle and high school girls. The students worked on computing projects including 3D printing, 3D modeling, HTML, and robotics. Through this activity I became interested in the Maker Movement and the use of platforms and tools to enable people to make anything they want. I created the first maker space lab at Bowie State which included small-scale manufacturing equipment such as 3D printers, a laser cutter, and associated electronics. This lab opened a world of possibilities for my students by allowing them to make whatever they could dream of. This led me to do more thinking about entrepreneurship, patents, and IP issues for students and faculty.

While I enjoyed teaching, I also wanted to learn more in the policy arena that could greatly effect the broader community and I decided to apply for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellowship. Fortunately, I was selected for the program and took an unpaid leave of absence from Bowie State to do the fellowship at the National Science Foundation in Washington, DC. During the fellowship I worked on a range of projects including broadening participation in computing, computer science education, and the maker movement. I also joined a great team and produced two National Maker Faires that brought together makers from across the country during the National Week of Making. I was also blessed to serve in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Obama Administration. There I was a Senior Policy Advisor and worked on the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative and Active Learning efforts. While doing all of that during the fellowship, I successfully applied for tenure and promotion to Associate Professor. When the Administration was ending, I made the choice to walk away from my tenured faculty position and continue my career in the policy and non-profit sectors.

Though I left the professoriate, I have continued to support the community through my work at AAAS and AnitaB.org. In 2016, I partnered with Drs. Jamika Burge and Jakita Thomas to co-found blackcomputeHER.org, a non-profit organization that supports the community of Black women and girls in computing and technology. The organization grew out of a small workshop and we now organize the annual #blackcomputeHER conference and the blackcomputeHER Fellows program.

How did you become involved with Tapia?

As a graduate student, I first attended the Tapia conference in 2007 in Orlando, Florida when it was co-located with the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. As a faculty member, I served as Poster Chair and Scholarship Chair, and on several review committees. As a new professor I was eager to “pay it forward” and introduce my students to the Tapia conference. In summer 2019, I was honored to be invited to be General Chair of Tapia 2020. Of course, we didn’t expect this pandemic to happen but we now have an opportunity to reach those who might not have been able to attend the conference.

Why should people attend a virtual conference?

The circumstances that have led us to pivot to a virtual conference weighs heavily on me as I’m sure it does for the entire community. While we all adjust to the ever-changing situation, I do believe that the shift to a virtual conference provides us with an opportunity to think about how we can support our community differently. So many in our community, including students, faculty, and employees, experience isolation all the time, whether in their lab, classes, or workplace, and are familiar with the loneliness and stress associated with feeling alone. Being a part of the Tapia community provides a respite for many of our attendees who look forward to connecting with each other each year. Finding ways to provide that relief virtually is a chance for us to re-imagine how we can be of service in ways that we haven’t had to previously. Many of us look forward to the time we spend together as a community and the planning committee is working tirelessly to find creative ways to continue the tradition of gathering that we are accustomed to. As this crisis fades in the years to come, I hope that we continue the spirit of community and continue to appreciate what we have in our community.