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28 October 2021

Hispanics in Computing group helps foster community

The rise of Hispanics in Computing

When Dr. Jose Andre Morales traveled to College Station in 2008 for a three-day workshop geared towards providing guidance to minority groups who were going into Ph.D. and postdoctoral programs, along with faculty positions, he noticed something.

Dr. Morales, who currently serves as a senior researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, noticed that he was one of only a handful of Hispanics in attendance, which didn’t sit well with him. 

When he brainstormed ideas about how he could find other people like him in his field, he decided to start up a mailing list. In the early stages of fleshing out the idea, he reached out to one of his colleagues he met at the workshop, Dr. Manuel Pérez Quiñones, to share his thoughts.

Dr. Pérez Quiñones, a professor at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, thought it was a great idea. So together, they started a mailing list. 

Community in Computing

After creating the mailing list, the group of computing professionals hosted its first in-person meeting at the 2009 Tapia conference. From then on, it became a tradition for the Hispanics in Computing group to host a Birds of a Feather (BoF) session at Tapia each year. The session provides the opportunity for many to share their life experiences without being judged or having to explain themselves.

“It doesn’t require a dissertation behind it to justify it,” Perez Quinones said. “[It’s about] validating your identity and having a space where you can speak or share things that others might not get.”

Pushing past Limits

Years later, the ideas and efforts of Hispanics in Computing co-founders Dr. Morales and Dr. Perez Quinones, have materialized within the next generation.

For Nery Chapetón-Lamas, a professor at MiraCosta College, being part of the community has been a “breath of fresh air” and the “lifeblood” he needed as he progressed in academia.

“Going to Tapia itself was revolutionary for me,” Chapetón-Lamas said. 

He started attending Tapia around the time he was pursuing tenure, which made him a bit nervous. However, being a member of Hispanics in Computing made all the difference.

“To go to a space where we were the majority was so powerful,” he said. “It gave me the courage to go beyond my limits.”

Dr. Brianna Posadas, a computing innovation fellow at Virginia Tech, started attending the Hispanics in Computing sessions at Tapia in 2017.

She noticed how many of her female peers within the community made history as the first Latinas to get advanced degrees at their respective institutions. 

When she did some research of her own, Posadas discovered that she was the first Latina to earn a doctoral degree from the University of Florida’s Department of Computer & Information Science & Engineering

“I never would’ve thought to ask or think of it that way if I hadn’t gone to those conferences,” she said. 

Annual Traditions

Dr. Patti Ordóñez, an associate professor at the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras and a member of the group, looks forward to the tradition of everyone in the room standing to share their biggest accomplishments of the year.

“Those are the times I feel liberated,” she said. “It’s boosting your confidence because you’re seeing all these great things that Latinos are doing.”

Dr. Dan Garcia, an early member of Hispanics in Computing who was instrumental in creating the early BoF proposals, came up with the idea for members to show flags that represented everyone’s country of origin or ethnic background in Hispanics in Computing’s annual group photo.

“One unique thing about the Hispanic community is that we come from different countries,” Dr. Morales said. “We all stand there and you see the pride in being together while representing your specific national culture.”

As the crowds within the group photos grow each year, it’s just a small representation of the sense of family that has been created throughout the years.

“I’m very proud of the group,” said Dr. Morales. “I’m very proud of the community. I never thought that my idea would [turn] into this.”
For more information on how to join the Hispanics in Computing mailing list, please visit hispanicsincomputing.org and keep an eye on tapiaconference.org for the group’s next Tapia session.