Broader Engagement at SIAM CSE17

A group of BE Participants at Google Fiber Academy.

On February 26th, 2017, Dr. Mary Ann Leung led the Broader Engagement (BE) Program at the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) 2017 Computational Science and Engineering (CSE) conference. This year, more than 50 sponsored and self-supported participants from 30 institutions came together as BE participants.  Although this was only the second time that SHI led the BE Program at the SIAM CSE conference series, it is no surprise that  the week full of activities and events was successful in engaging BE participants while also helping them build a sense of belonging in the STEM community.

As you may know, one mission of the BE Program is to support individuals who are underrepresented in STEM. However, our mission is much deeper than what meets the eye. Through BE and other programs we work to inspire change on a larger scale. Our overarching mission is to catalyze a change in the community by normalizing the inclusion of people underrepresented in science and engineering. To help accomplish this mission at CSE17, we used a number of methods to increase community engagement with BE, and we were blown away by the results. More than 270 community members communicated an interest in volunteering with BE Program on their conference registrations. We were very fortunate to not only welcome many of these individuals as volunteers, but to also have such a large group of people share a desire to support our mission and vision.

Jehanzeb Chaudry, a volunteer guide, leads his group in a pre-session discussion.

Another mission we aspire to accomplish is helping our participants feel welcome and engaged in the CSE community. To help assure this sense of belonging, SHI organizes and facilitates many of its own events in addition to the full conference technical program that is available to participants. Some of the events held at CSE17 were expansions of events from CSE15, like the Mentor Protege Program, and the Pathways to Success Workshop. However, some of the events SHI organized were brand new. Two new events this year were the guided affinity groups and HPC workshops. During the guided affinity groups, participants were able to discuss the scientifically rich and dense content of the conference technical sessions with seasoned professionals. During the HPC Workshops, experts in HPC fields assisted program participants in exploring HPC tools. Many BE participants took advantage of these new events, and found the supportive environments to be beneficial to their academic growth. The guides and leaders of these events were also satisfied with the outcomes. Jehanzeb Chaudry, a volunteer guide from the University of New Mexico, shared that he was pleased to have the opportunity to volunteer with BE, and that he appreciated the “interest shown by students even though they were hearing about a complicated topic”.

Paving the Road Ahead Workshop attendees sharing their final products.

In addition to helping participants grow academically, BE organized events are targeted to help participants feel inspired, motivated, and encouraged to persevere in their respective fields. The Pathways to Success Workshop, led by Dr. Mary Ann Leung, and the Paving the Road Ahead Workshop, led by Melissa Abdelbaky, support individuals in developing this inspiration. These workshops support participants in envisioning their future successes, while also providing them with approaches for navigating pathways to STEM career success. “[One] workshop that I enjoyed was the Paving the Road Ahead workshop, because it gave the opportunity to envision and think about our future in a creative way” said Anna Hirst, an undergraduate student from California State University, Dominguez Hills. These workshops were effective in their use of personal reflection, discussion, and drawing to help individuals accomplish the tasks at hand. 

An example of participant work during the STEAM workshop

Another highly rated BE event was the STEAM workshop. STEAM is an acronym describing the intersection between STEM principles and art. The workshop was led by two BE Program participants, Minsoo Thigpen, an undergraduate at Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design, and Lukas WinklerPrins, a math teacher and Brown University alum. The goal of the STEAM workshop was to teach individuals the value of fusing different disciplines and modes of thinking. After a brief introduction to STEAM, Thigpen and WinklerPrins led participants through an activity which introduced STEAM concepts in an interactive manner. Participants were asked to model a social system by collaborating to design a board game. One participant, Aishat Motolani, an undergraduate at Albany State University, shared her experience during the workshop:

I have wondered many times, “why does art and science have to be at the opposite end of the spectrum when in reality, they are actually intertwined?” That thought was brought back to life in that moment and many of my questions were answered . . . [During the activity,] the team work was phenomenal and my critical thinking skills were sharpened. I had lots of fun while creating the game and while playing it. We had some meaningful discussions also and we were on the verge of solving a real social problem through this game. I think that’s pretty interesting.

All of the BE events received high marks from guests, but it was the Mentor Protege Program that seemed to be the most influential. Many participants found significant, and even life changing benefits from being matched with mentors. One participant, Kathryn Rouse, a graduate student at Wake Forest University, shared her experience:

The mentorship program has been influential in fostering deeper connections with more people beyond my university.  My mentor has continued to check in which is wonderful at the close of a busy semester.  Additionally, he provided a lot of thinking points that have helped me become more clear about my future path.  In particular he gave me some starting points for thinking about what my future paths can be given the constraints of family obligations.


BE Participants enjoying their experience!

Photos, testimonials, and survey results from CSE17 provide strong evidence that the BE Program was again a success. Our post-survey revealed that participants greatly benefited from their time at CSE17. Written testimonials from participants shared that many individuals felt their career/professional skills and their academic skills were improved as a result of the conference. Pre- and post-surveys also disclosed that there was a moderately significant change in response to the question “To what extent do you feel like you belong in the computational science and engineering community?”. After the conference, our participants felt a higher sense of belonging than before. Another positive change participants indicated was a change in their confidences levels. The surveys revealed that there was a significant difference in responses to the question “How confident are you in your ability to achieve your scientific goals?”. After the conference, our participants felt their ability was much higher than before. Lastly, results show that many of participants have interest in attending conferences as members of the BE program again in the future, rating their likeliness of participating again (on average) a 4.45/5. Because of the success of the BE Program in 2015, and now again in 2017, we plan to bring the BE Program back to SIAM CSE in 2019. To receive updates on future programs and application deadlines, email to join the mailing list.

Lukas WinklerPrins

I think my position was relatively unique in being treated like faculty while being closer, in age and development, to many of the undergraduate students. I was able to move freely between both groups and this was helpful for asserting where I am in life. For me, the most influential part was the mentor-mentee matchmaking. The dedicated, conscious effort to...
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Javier Rojas

Participating in the program was an experience unlike any other. I believe the program was very engaging and intuitive. I appreciated the Guided affinity groups as they increased learning in technical conference sessions. The Mentor Protégé Program was also worthwhile since it matched us with SIAM CSE community members, giving us the opportunity to connect with seasoned professionals, get advice,...
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Minsoo Thigpen

In school, I've thought myself as the painter who happened to also do math and never the other way around. It's a very dissociative way of attending your math classes to be honest. Even though I'm in a dual degree program at Brown University and R.I. School of Design, and I'm rightfully an Applied Math major, I always had this...
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Wendi Sapp

Without the existence of the BE program, I would never have been able to attend the CSE17 conference. I met so many great people and was exposed to research well outside my field. The content of the BE activities challenged me to think about my academic and career path in a new light. Was I spending time on pursuits that...
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Aishat Motolani

I had been to only one conference before attending BE program. I had the usual preparation before I embarked on my journey. Printed out the agenda, selected the workshops I was going to attend, learn as much as possible, meet new people, and come back with a report for my mentor. I still did all that at SIAM CSE. However,...
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The full photo gallery for SIAM CSE17 BE can be accessed here.