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We know our science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce is crucial to America’s innovative capacity and global competitiveness. Yet women are vastly underrepresented in these fields. The 2009 US Census reveals that although women fill close to half of all jobs in the country’s economy, they hold less than 25 percent of the STEM jobs. This has been the case throughout the past decade, even as college-educated women have increased their share of the overall workforce. We simply must do more to expose young women to the opportunities in STEM fields.
Munmun De Choudhury, a postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft Research, spoke at the TEDxWomenSouthLakeUnion event in Seattle on December 1, 2012.
It was with this goal in mind that Microsoft Research Connections, Women in Bio Seattle Metro, and University of Washington’s Women in Informatics joined forces to support the December 1 TEDxWomenSouthLakeUnion event in Seattle. This was one of more than 100 local TEDxWomen gatherings held around the world on November 30 and December 1, all of them tied into the TEDxWomen 2012 event in Washington, DC, and together comprising an international call for the full participation of women and their ideas, their experiences, their compassion and convictions, their activism, and their artistry.
I was honored to serve as one of the co-hosts of this year’s Seattle event. While we streamed live talks from the TEDxWomen event in Washington, DC, we also pursued our local goal of attracting more women to STEM fields. To this end, we brought together top women in science, engineering, research, and technology from across the Puget Sound region. These STEM leaders influenced and networked with freshman and sophomore women from the University of Washington, encouraging them to pursue majors in STEM disciplines.
This year’s TEDxWomen theme was the Space Between, an exploration of what it means to live in a time of extremes, where the dialog is very much black and white even though we know our world is gray. Today’s conversations are typically framed in terms of binary extremes: men versus women, rich versus poor, liberal versus conservative, peace versus war, the haves versus the have-nots. But we know better: the world is a web of spectrums, not a linear standoff of polarities.
Our event dived into “the space between,” featuring two stellar local speakers whose talks focused on the space between our intellectual and emotional intelligence and the impact of digital technologies in this interstitial realm. Katie Davis, an assistant professor at the University of Washington Information School, discussed how digital media technologies like Facebook, Twitter, and smartphones have altered the contexts in which young people grow up. She focused on three key areas: young people's identity (experiences of themselves), intimacy (their relationships), and imagination (their world of ideas and creative expression). As Katie explained, these “three i’s” underlie what it means to be human, and they ultimately shape—and are shaped by—the society in which we live.
Our second speaker, Munmun De Choudhury, a postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft Research, discussed how emotions fundamentally direct our attention and responses to our environment, framing our attitudes and influencing our social relationships. As online social networking tools continue to gain traction among individuals, they provide a unique platform to understand human expression—whether thoughts, emotions, or opinions. Munmun described how an understanding of the rich landscape of emotions will help us better interpret the behavior of millions, while at the same time making individuals more “emotionally intelligent” by enabling them to reflect on their emotional experiences.
We also featured a bonus session: a screening of Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s Sundance documentary, Miss Representation, a powerful exploration of how the media’s many misrepresentations of women contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence. The film features interviews with leading politicians, journalists, entertainers, activists, and academics, including Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Rachel Maddow, and Gloria Steinem.
It was exciting to be part of a global event with a local spin, especially since the day was full of inspiration and activism. You could feel the energy of women ready to go out and make changes in the Puget Sound region and throughout the world. It was exhilarating to hear students, who had yet to declare their majors, express their desire to pursue majors in computer science and information science after the talks from Katie and Munmun.
The three co-hosting organizations have agreed to sponsor the event again next year. We look forward to an even bigger and better conference that lasts multiple days! Keep in touch and visit the TEDxSouthLakeUnionWomen webpage next autumn to learn how you can join the event.
—Rane Johnson-Stempson, Education and Scholarly Communication Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research Connections
Here’s a sobering fact: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2018 there will be 1.4 million open technology jobs in the United States and, at the current rate of students graduating with degrees in computer science, we will fill only 61 percent of those openings. These predictions are all the more dispiriting when you realize that the latest advances in improving healthcare, protecting the environment, and upgrading manufacturing have come from technological innovations. I believe that no other field offers as much opportunity for students and society as computer science does. This is why Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek)—the week of computer pioneer Grace Hopper’s birthday (December 9)—is so important: it’s our chance to inspire as many students as possible to pursue this field. CSEdWeek recognizes the critical role of computing in today’s society and the imperative to bolster computer science education at all levels.
Rane Johnson-Stempson helps high-school students understand rapid prototyping with .NET Gadgeteer from Microsoft Research.
In a way, it’s surprising that more young people aren’t going into computer science. As I travel the world and meet with students in middle school, high school, and college, I encounter a reoccurring theme: these students want a career where they can make an impact. They want to take on social issues, world issues, and be part of something bigger. This is where I explain to them that computer science is the field they want to pursue. Innovations in combating HIV, understanding the human genome, protecting the environment—these, I tell them, are just some of the urgent global needs that are being addressed with technology. It’s imperative that bright young people see the enormous potential for doing good through computing.
This is why, in conjunction with CSEdWeek, representatives from Microsoft Research and the newly formed University of Washington Women in Informatics headed to the Kent Technology Academy (a middle school) and Kent Meridian Technology Academy (a high school), to share with students what can be accomplished in the fields of computer and information sciences. We demonstrated how technology can help students understand the universe (with WorldWide Telescope); bridge the gap between science and the humanities (with ChronoZoom); develop games (with Kodu); and create mobile applications (with TouchDevelop) and rapid prototypes (with .NET Gadgeteer). We showed how social media can help us better understand human emotions and behaviors, which can lead to better healthcare, and, above all, we strove to convey the excitement and fulfillment that comes from engineering innovations and making tools that are used by millions across the world.
I came away with a renewed respect for the teachers, as we hustled through six 55-minute sessions with only a short, 30-minute break for lunch. Typically, the teachers hurry through their meal and then grade papers during this short timeout, but they broke with their normal routine to talk with us about their students, their curricula, and the challenges and opportunities offered by computer science. It was heartening to hear their optimism about their pupils and the future of technology, and extremely humbling to be thanked for our participation in their efforts. I think Susan Whitehall, the principal at Kent Meridian Technology Academy (KMTA), said it best:
At KMTA, our goal is technology integration. Our teachers involve students in projects that are not necessarily about technology itself, but use technology to expedite, enhance, and expand all areas of learning. The partnership with Microsoft allows students to see what can happen when knowledge, technological expertise, and creativity all come together. Our students get to work with excellent role models and engage in high-interest, hands-on activities. Most importantly, this partnership helps remind students that they themselves are amazing human beings with limitless potential.
That amazing potential was on full display during our visit, making it an enjoyable experience for everyone. For me personally, the most fun was working with students as they learned about rapid prototyping and industrial design through our .NET Gadgeteer platform. The students learned that computer science isn’t just sitting at a computer, programming in isolation. They discovered that the field also involves working on teams and creating tools that people use every day—items like digital cameras and media players. Given the short class periods, we could do only simple projects, but these were enough to make the students’ eyes light up and to prompt questions about where they can buy a kit. My eyes lit up, too, at the possibility of having inspired hundreds of budding computer scientists.
—Rane Johnson-Stempson, Education and Scholarly Communication Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research Connections
Location sensing has become ubiquitous—it’s present every time you turn on your smartphone or engage your car’s navigation system. It’s also become critical to a variety of outdoors and remote research applications, such as wildlife tracking, participatory environmental sensing, and personal health and wellness monitoring.
The Global Positioning System (GPS) is commonly used for tagging the location of data samples. But traditional GPS location fixing is a power hog; in fact, the typical smartphone battery will drain in about six hours if the phone’s GPS is constantly running, which is particularly problematic in remote locations. Moreover, a smartphone is fairly bulky—not exactly the kind of sensor you can, for example, attach to fruit bats to monitor their nocturnal flights.
Cloud-offloaded GPS may provide researchers with an energy-efficient solution for location sensing.
In a paper titled, “Energy Efficient GPS Sensing with Cloud Offloading” (PDF file, 6.13 MB), we propose a potential solution to this battery power and size dilemma. This paper describes cloud-offloaded GPS (CO-GPS), an innovative way to perform location sensing by using tiny embedded devices and the cloud to share the work of GPS signal acquisition and processing. By logging only a few milliseconds of raw GPS signals, the device can store enough information for resolving GPS-based location, and it consumes two to three orders of magnitude less energy than stand-alone or mobile phone GPS sensors. The signals are then sent to the cloud with sensor data to reconstruct the location and time that the samples are taken. In delay-tolerant, data acquisition applications—such as animal tracking, float sensor networks, participatory environmental sensing, and long-range time synchronization—CO-GPS is ideal for extending the battery life of mobile devices.
The paper received the Best Paper Award at ACM SenSys 2012—the premier conference on networked embedded sensing systems and a top forum for the sensor network research community. Many attendees consider the work to be a breakthrough in pushing continuous location sensing to extremely low power devices that can be carried by humans, animals, or recreational equipment.
We anticipate that CO-GPS will be a boon to citizen-science efforts, particularly those that rely on participatory sensing from embedded devices. For example, the CO-GPS approach is a key enabling technology in Microsoft Research Project CLEO, a participatory environmental sensing system that we are showcasing at the 2012 AGU Fall Meeting this week.
—Jie Liu, Principal Researcher and Research Manager, Microsoft Research, Sensing and Energy Research Group
—Yan Xu, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections