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13 September 2021

Tapia Celebrates 20 Years of Building Community within Computing

CEO and President Valerie Taylor speaking at the 2017 Tapia conference.

The 2021 CMD-IT/ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference marks the 15th conference and the 20-year anniversary of the very first Tapia conference. As we approach these milestones, this year provides us the opportunity to reflect upon its initial launch.

In the 1990s, there were a number of discussions about having a conference that focused on diversity. Those same discussions carried over into 2000 during a strategy meeting in Chicago for the Coalition to Diversify Computing, which was a joint organization of ACM, CRA and IEEE-CS.  

The meeting included Dr. Valerie Taylor, Dr. Bryant York, Dr. Richard Alo, and several others. During the meeting, they spoke about organizing a conference based upon the Grace Hopper Conference as they had close ties with Telle Whitney and Anita Borg.

During the meeting in Chicago, the group brainstormed and agreed that the event’s title should emphasize the “Celebration of Diversity in Computing,” which would still allow for the conference to celebrate diversity if and when the computing industry reached parity.

In the initial brainstorm, the group wanted to name the conference after someone who had a strong record of accomplishments in the sectors of science and diversity. Everyone immediately thought of Dr. Richard Tapia.  

Dr. Tapia initially declined the request for the conference to have his name, however, it was the personal letter from Bryant York that resulted in him agreeing to have the conference named in his honor. The conference was held in October 2001, a year when the Hopper Conference did not take place.  At that time, the Hopper Conference was held every other year.

The first General Co-Chairs were Dr. Valerie Taylor and Dr. Richard Alo. Others who were very involved with the planning of the conference included Dr. Bryant York, Ann Redelfs, Theresa Chatman, and Cynthia Lanius.

Working as a team, they were able to secure NSF funding for scholarships. In addition to NSF, Telle Whitney was very helpful in introducing the group to opportunities for conference fundraising and continues to be very helpful today.

The first Tapia Conference, organized by the Coalition to Diversify Computing and sponsored by ACM, was held October 18-20, 2001 in Houston, Texas with 164 attendees.  

A few of the first speakers included Ken Kennedy, Barbara Simons, and Sandra Johnson. 

Immediately following the banquet, they enjoyed singing from Dr. Richard Tapia’s daughter and ended the conference with the chicken dance.  

The conference has now grown to over 3,000 attendees and is geared to providing a safe space where all attendees can truly be themselves and be encouraged in the field of computing.  

The Former Chair Panel, which is scheduled for Thursday, September 16 from 5:30 p.m. to  6:15 p.m. will provide an opportunity to hear insights and personal stories from those involved with previous Tapia conferences. 

As we countdown the days until Tapia, we sat down with our founder and CEO Dr. Valerie Taylor to answer questions about the conference’s origins and its future.

Why is it important to create safe spaces for African Americans/Blacks, Native Americans/Indigeneous People, Hispanics/Latinx, and People with Disabilities in the computing industry?

It is important to have safe spaces because of the need to be comfortable to deliver the best work and be confident in expressing ideas. Diverse ideas bring about innovation and robust solutions.  

In the beginning stages of naming Tapia, what do you think it was about Bryant’s personal letter that convinced Richard Tapia that would allow you all to use his name?

Bryant spoke to Richard Tapia a few times on the phone, for which Richard declined to have the conference named in his honor.  In the letter, Bryant appealed to Richard by indicating that Richard was truly unique with respect to his academic and outreach achievements (member of the National Academy of Engineering and the inaugural recipient of the NSF Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring) and the timing was right to start a conference to celebrate the diversity in computing.  It was Bryant’s passion about the confluence of circumstances that was eloquently stated in his letter that convinced Richard to agree to have the conference named in his honor.  Richard has attended every Tapia conference. 

What’s your favorite part of the Tapia conference?

The Tapia Conference includes sessions focused on technical topics as well as professional development. My favorite part is when the audience asks questions of the speakers at the different sessions. It is an opportunity for the audience to extend their knowledge in an area. 

What are you looking forward to the most for #Tapia2021?

I look forward to catching up with friends and colleagues and having an opportunity to network to make new friends.

What do you hope for the future of Tapia in the next 20 years?

I hope that the Tapia conference maintains a focus on networking opportunities while providing sessions focused on technical as well as professional development topics.

If you are interested in attending Tapia as it approaches its 20-year milestone, you can register via tapiaconference.cmd-it.org.