Marching towards a more inclusive tech world
Photo courtesy of Marie desJardins.

Marching towards a more inclusive tech world

Associate Dean of Computer Science Marie desJardins’s time at UMBC is coming to a close, but her legacy of making computer science more inclusive will never be forgotten. She will be leaving UMBC to become founding Dean of the College of Organizational, Computational and Information Sciences at Simmons College in Boston.

desJardins implemented numerous programs throughout her tenure at UMBC. One of her most well-known accomplishments was developing and launching UMBC’s Grand Challenge Scholar’s Program.

This initiative was based on the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges for Engineering. This program consists of forming interdisciplinary teams of students, which include students from life sciences, social sciences, mechanical engineering, and arts and humanities. These students seek to explore and brainstorm solutions to “Grand Challenges” through seminars, research and service. Students receive a formal designation for their work in the program upon graduation.

Additionally, desJardins worked with the Honors Colleges as an Honors Faculty Fellow. She taught a seminar called “Computation, Complexity, and Emergence,” which brought together student perspectives from many different majors regarding relevant interdisciplinary topics. She has also served as a chair of the Honors College Advisory Board during her tenure.

But desJardins’s work goes even further. She also works to increase access to computing education for K-12 students. She has furthered these endeavors by serving as lead principal investigator of CE21- Maryland. Her work was critical to the creation of How Girls Code, an after-school program and summer camp at UMBC where girls in elementary and middle school can develop their skills in the field of computer science.

As a larger goal, desJardins wishes to see a change in tech culture in regards to diversity. She said, “One of the things that I’ve been working on, particularly for the last eight to ten years, is increasing the diversity of the field of computing, particularly focusing on gender diversity. Computer science is one of the lowest percentages of women of any career.”

Tech culture’s hostility towards women has been well-documented. From the personal attacks on programming instructor and game developer Kathy Sierra by Andrew Auernheimer, to the infamous Google Memo released by James Damore, the tech world is still trying to figure how to become a more welcoming place for women.

Another aspect of concern for desJardins is the lack of racial diversity. She said, “There are significant issues with under-representation of racial minorities [in these fields], particularly black and African-American students and workers. Part of that is an equity issue: what is keeping those groups out of these fields and keeping them from accessing these really good careers?”

desJardins is particularly concerned with the long-term economic implications. In particular, she is concerned that we lack the necessary workforce for our technological future. She said, “There’s a real shortage of people going into these careers, and so if we don’t tap into these populations of women and racial minorities, we’re kind of missing out on a potential source of people.”

But while desJardins is moving on, she remains positive about her time spent at UMBC. She said, “It’s gonna be really hard to leave UMBC, I’ve been here for seventeen years. I loved it here. I loved the students. There are so many faculty and staff and friends that I have here.”