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Creating Pathways to Diversify STEM: Get to Know Shani Daily – Government Relations – Duke University

On July 7, 2022
In Blog
Computer science and its products are undoubtedly a key part of our society’s future. As a result, it is of the utmost importance that we ensure diversity in terms of those who are working in computer science, as well as its effects on society.
Shani Daily is a professor of practice in Electrical and Computer Engineering & Computer Science at Duke University and was named among North Carolina’s Black STEM Leaders by Governor Roy Cooper this year. Last year, Daily and her colleague Nicki Washington were awarded $10 million by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish the Alliance for Identity-Inclusive Computing Education (AiiCE). The program aims to increase the entry, retention and degree completion rates of high school and undergraduate students from groups that are historically underrepresented in computing.
We spoke with Daily about this federal support for her work, her start in computer science and ways to attract the next generation of students to her field.
What influenced you to study computer science and its role in supporting diversity and inclusion? 
I have always been interested in building things (e.g., software, robots) that could support education. When I was in graduate school, I noticed a couple of things: first, there were not a lot of people in STEM who looked like me, and second, if STEM environments were going to be more inclusive, people would need the interpersonal skills necessary to work together. My work from there was either building technologies and programs to create more pathways for people to engage with STEM or technologies to cultivate emotional self-awareness and empathy. One example is a virtual environment where learners could program 3D dance partners. Another is a digital diary where learners could tell meaningful stories and see how their bodies physically responded to those stories. Ultimately, my dream is to be a part of creating an environment where diverse groups can come together to design computational solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. 
What are the ways we can use machine learning to improve the quality and diversity of computing education and what are some important factors when considering these interventions?
When I think about machine learning (ML), I think about understanding patterns. What we want to continually get better at accomplishing is understanding how DEI interventions influence the computing landscape. Moving forward, our interest is to utilize ML approaches to make data-driven decisions about the types of interventions that will best impact students.
Can you discuss the Alliance for Identity-Inclusive Computing Education’s (AiiCE’s) mission and how the Nationals Science Foundation (NSF) supports the program’s objectives?
The Alliance for Identity-Inclusive Computing Education (AiiCE) was formed to address barriers to marginalized groups participating in computing and create measurable change by increasing and normalizing course and degree enrollment, retention and completion rates of students from groups that are historically underrepresented in computing. The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) cooperative agreement provides $10 million over five years to enable us to establish a network of educators, policymakers, administrators, industry leaders and others to transform the computing landscape. 
Are there any policy-driven changes that you would like to see in the higher education system and/or how we prepare students who are entering the workforce?
Our work is based on the thought that policy can impact students’ abilities to enter the workforce. We also look at the need to change practices and influence how educators and administrators work to create inclusive environments. Specific policies might include ensuring educators, staff and TAs can adopt practices and dispositions that support inclusive excellence; expanding research opportunities to include agendas that influence social justice work; ensuring DEI policies and practices are a part of larger accountability structures; developing incentive structures to recruit, prepare and retain a diverse pool of computer science teachers (K-12); and providing comprehensive educator preparation and professional development programs that support identity-inclusive pedagogy and practices.
What would you like to tell students who are interested in computer science and engineering at Duke?
Duke is an extraordinary place with lots of interdisciplinary opportunities for students. The Duke Technology Scholars Program also provides unmatched support for students. I’d encourage students who want to develop any fluency in computation to explore the wide range of opportunities to engage at Duke. 
Posted 6/23/22
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