Raja Kushnalgar is the 2021 CMD-IT/ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference Academic Panels and Workshops Deputy Chair and the Director of the Information Technology program in the Department of Science, Technology and Mathematics at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC.. We spoke to Raja about his life and what he is looking forward to at #Tapia2021.
Tell me about your background – where did you grow up, what did your parents do?
I was born deaf. My father was an Air Force officer, and my mother a homemaker. My parents put me in a small school with the same friends and teachers throughout, and I was able to meet with teachers and tutors so I could keep up with classes despite missing some spoken information.
How did you become interested in computer science?
I was initially interested in Physics and got a bachelors’ degree in Applied Physics from a small university in West Texas. After graduation, I had trouble finding a job in physics, eventually I was able to land a data analyst job, which I enjoyed very much. So I pursued a Masters in Computer Science at RIT, and got a job offer from Bell Laboratories before graduating. After working in telephone networking research for a few years, the business changed to all IP, so I decided to change careers. I then pursued a doctorate in computer science from University of Houston, and became a professor at RIT, and now at Gallaudet University.
What are you working on now?
I manage the information technology academic program at Gallaudet, do research on accessible computing and mentor students through summer research and other organizations such as Tapia.
How did you become involved in the Tapia Conference?
I supported my summer research students’ attendance at Tapia over a few years, and now volunteer for Tapia.
What are you excited about for this 20th Anniversary of Tapia?
Tapia has been a leading conference on supporting diversity in the computing field, including those with disabilities. So much has changed in the past 20 years, and I am thrilled to see the impact the conference has made in the past two decades.
What would you like to see change in tech in the next 20 years?
I look forward to seeing more personalization of accessible services through AI in the next 20 years.