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I’m back home after an exciting and inspiring Microsoft Research Latin American Faculty Summit, which took place in the Riviera Maya, Mexico, from May 23 to 25. The 2012 Latin American Faculty Summit marked the eighth edition of a research event that started as my “brainchild” in 2005. That first summit was held in Embu, a small town near the city of São Paulo, with a modest gathering of researchers mainly from Brazil. This fascinating journey continued with a sequence of annual events, each one raising the bar over the last. Over the years, the summits have taken full advantage of the beauty and variety of Latin America, being held in such fantastic locations as Guadalajara, Mexico; Gamboa, Panama; Cardales, Argentina; Guaruja, Brazil; Cartagena, Colombia; and finally the stunning Riviera Maya in Mexico.
Piramid of Kukulkan, Chichén Itzá (Ernesto Nava); Riviera Maya in Mexico
More than that, however, the summits have taken advantage of the outstanding intellectual resources of Latin America. In the process, what began as a simple academic gathering has evolved into a premier research event that brings together representatives from academia, government, and industry. The summits are abuzz with high-powered participants, all eager to apply computer science to global challenges in disciplines as diverse as healthcare, energy, the environment, education, and sociology. Government participation has been solidified through formal partnerships with national research funding agencies, including SENACYT from Panama, FAPESP from Brazil, COLCIENCIAS from Colombia, and CONACYT from Mexico. Several summits were even inaugurated by the president of the host country, including the events in Panama, Argentina, and Colombia.
As I look back over the just-concluded event, three highlights stand out. First, we were extremely honored that CONACYT agreed to partner with Microsoft Research in hosting this summit. This partnership ensured the participation of many prominent Mexican researchers, who presented their projects in the CONACYT Thematic Networks research track. Moreover, this partnership has generated several opportunities for collaboration between Microsoft Research and Mexican researchers.
The second highlight was the presence of graduate students from Mexico, who in addition to attending the main event, also participated in three pre-event software engineering workshops. They greatly impressed the researchers from Microsoft with very cool demos that were created by using TouchDevelop technology. One of these students, Alisa Zhila from the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (IPN), recently was honored as a Microsoft Research PhD Fellow. We were ecstatic that the summit could contribute to shaping a new generation of computer scientists in Mexico.
The third highlight has to be the location. While summit attendees certainly enjoyed the scenic and tranquil beauty of the magnificent Riviera Maya, the local community also benefitted from the summit: through invitations to participate in the event and also through their active involvement in projects that may help preserve the local cultural legacy. Summit discussions explored opportunities to involve local researchers and students in the preservation of their cultural heritage, the Mayan language, through Microsoft Translator Hub technology. And yet another important link to the region’s cultural legacy was forged at the summit with the plan to include historical milestones of the Mayan culture in ChronoZoom.
This summit featured a variety of stimulating keynotes, talks, panels, workshops, and project demonstrations, but most importantly, it gathered people eager to work together to make this world a better place with the help of science and technology. In a very real sense, the event didn’t conclude last week. It will continue on through the substantial number of meetings, projects, collaborations, and agreements that it generated, all of which makes us very proud to say: What a successful and rewarding event!
—Jaime Puente, Director, Latin America and the Caribbean, Microsoft Research Connections
Going to a major conference is always fun. It’s an opportunity to see old friends and make new ones, to network with experts, and to be exposed to fresh ideas and trends. All those benefits hold true for the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) for Women in Computing, the Anita Borg Institute’s annual conference on women’s roles in computing. But for me, GHC is meaningful for another reason: it’s an opportunity for Microsoft in general—and Microsoft Research in particular—to focus on growing and retaining women in computer science and engineering. That’s why I am so pleased that more than 260 of my fellow “Softies”—including 9 executives and 22 women who will speak or lead at conference events—are joining me at GHC. This strong presence enables us to reach out to women at every stage of their technology career development, from students through established professionals, and to demonstrate Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and innovation in computing.
And make no mistake: such commitment is sorely needed. Women's share of US computer occupations declined to 27 percent in 2011 after reaching a high of 34 percent in 1990. The US Department of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2018 there will be 1.4 million open technology jobs in the United States. At the current rate of students graduating with degrees in computer science, only 61 percent of those openings will be filled—and only 29 percent of applicants will be women.
The need is all the more critical when you consider that the latest advances in improving healthcare, protecting the environment, and upgrading manufacturing have come from technological innovations. At Microsoft Research, we recognize that such technology breakthroughs require teams that are sufficiently diverse to anticipate, respond to, and serve the needs of a changing world. To bolster women’s participation in computing, we believe in a multipronged approach based on broad industry and academic partnerships. This approach builds exposure to computer science at an early age and supports women during undergraduate and graduate studies in computer science. Equally important, it promotes collaborations with the top women researchers and rising stars, such as the work I’m presently doing with Constance Steinkuehler of the University Wisconsin-Madison. We are researching the impact of exposing female middle school and high school students to computer science through an online community that teaches computational thinking via game design. Or, with Tiffany Barnes of North Carolina State University where we are working in conjunction with Rising Stars Alliance - a community of practice for student-led regional engagement as a means to broaden participation in computing. In addition, Microsoft Research collaborates closely with Ruthe Farmer at the National Center for Women in Technology in the Aspirations in Computing and the Aspire IT programs. Constance, Tiffany, and Ruthe will speak in greater detail about these projects during my session on Innovative Solutions in Attracting More Women in Computing at GHC.
As part of our industry sponsorship, Microsoft is supporting 35 GHC scholarships. In addition, Julie Larson-Green, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Devices and Studios division, will be a mentor at the Senior Women’s Networking Lunch, and Jacky Wright, vice president of Microsoft Strategic Enterprise Services, will be speaking at and sponsoring the Women of Color Luncheon.
If you’re attending Grace Hopper, whatever your professional affiliation or career stage, please stop by our booth (an Airstream trailer decked out with the latest devices) to learn about opportunities at Microsoft. Be sure to take part in our scavenger hunt—which offers Xbox and Kinect prizes—and the Dance-Off Challenge at the closing party we co-sponsor with Google each year. Through partnerships with businesses, organizations, and individuals, we hope to grow the next generation of women in computing. Let’s bridge the gap to future innovation together, through diversity and creativity!
—Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director for Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections
The Imagine Cup 2011 winners are revealed! The winning projects hail from Bangladesh, Brazil, Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, Korea, Poland, Romania, and Taiwan. At the awards ceremony, Microsoft announced a new US$3 million grant program to help recipients realize their vision.
Congratulations to all the winners and every participant in this amazing competition! For more information, read the Research at Imagine Cup 2011 blog.
—Stewart Tansley, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections, and Jim Pinkelman, Senior Director, Microsoft Research Connections