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29 November 2021

The impact of Tapia: Khalil Griffin’s story

The year was 2015. Khalil Griffin was entering his senior year at Stanford University. As a computer science student, he had the opportunity to intern with Google on three different occasions. As he was inching toward graduation, he was looking for ways to leave his mark and enrich the lives of his fellow students before he left.

“I was thinking about ways to encourage more minorities to get into computer science and I asked my advisor if [there] were any conferences that we could take students to,” Griffin said.

His advisor then proceeded to tell him about the CMD-IT/ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference and secured funding from the department to get a few more students, including Griffin, to attend. 

While there weren’t many minority students in his department, he was focused on doing what he could to make an impact.

“I wanted to make sure that students of all backgrounds understood that computing was a good field and it was something that all of us would be able to do,” he said.

The Tapia conference offered a one-of-a-kind experience for introducing Griffin and his peers to university presidents, along with high-level engineers and faculty members within academia. The strength of the CMD-IT community, in its many facets, is one of its biggest attractions. 

“I think that having a relatively large conference that was really focused on computing specifically and a broad group of different minorities and people with disabilities, was the right type of group to have a real impact,” he said.

As a software engineer at Google, his involvement within CMD-IT and the Tapia conference has only grown. He currently serves as the deputy program chair for Tapia and was previously a Student Posters/ACM Student Research Competition Chair. 

His vast experiences through serving in different roles have strengthened him professionally.

“Going to Tapia helps me build empathy for people who might have different abilities than I do,” he said.

“Whenever I’m writing a user-facing feature, I think a little bit extra about how this works from an accessibility perspective.”

Griffin even recalls an experience with Tapia’s General Chair Robert Parke and how Parke invited him to sit at his university’s table at the conference’s annual banquet. 

In 2019, at the last in-person conference, he followed in Parke’s footsteps. He walked around the room and sought out attendees who might’ve not known where to sit and invited them to join Google’s table for the event.

The Tapia conference has been known as the premier venue to acknowledge, promote and celebrate diversity in computing since it debuted 20 years ago. 

“For me, it’s always a piece of inspiration and a reminder of just how much diversity and talent is out there in the community,” Griffin said.

If you’re interested in joining this community, keep your eye on updates for the 2022 conference on September 6-10 in Washington, D.C. Visit tapiaconference.cmd-it.org for more details.