The University of New Mexico recently received a grant from Google to help attract more undergraduate women to the fields of robotics and computer science.

According to a Google press release, UNM was one of 15 schools to receive an exploreCSR (Computer Science Research) grant. The press release said Google wants to use these grants to reach about 1,200 undergraduate women between 2018 and 2019.

This $35,000 grant will help implement a program called Becoming a Robot Guru Workshop, led by associate computer science professor Lydia Tapia.



Tapia said her program works by running the Robot Guru Workshop in conjunction with a top robotics conference. She said graduate students will attend the conference and mentor undergraduate students who will be able to participate virtually using Google Daydream headsets, a virtual reality platform.

Tapia said this method will help the program make the most of their budget.

“The drawback is with a limited budget you can't exactly take 70 undergraduates and fly them across the country,” Tapia said. “Our idea was to build cohorts of undergraduates that will get mentored by graduate students that are attending the conference. The undergraduates would get to participate in the conference and the workshop, but they would do it virtually.”

Tapia said this will be the first time her workshop will be run this way. She hopes the mentorship program will help both undergraduate and graduate students make the most of the conference.

“You have this really tight connection to your graduate student mentor so that you can ask questions… and not be embarrassed because you have a mentor there to help you through the process,” Tapia said.

Tapia said students will be able to apply to this program by filling out an application that will soon be available on her website. She hopes this program will get undergraduate women excited about the work being done in these fields, and hopefully lead them to eventually pursue graduate level degrees.

“I’ve run two of these workshops before and students really get motivated by going to one of these top robotics conferences,” Tapia said. “The exciting part is that you get to see what is happening cutting edge in robotics, and they get to see the top minds in robotics presenting their work in front of groups of people.”

Postdoctoral fellow coordinator Satomi Sugaya has been helping Tapia with this program. She said working to increase the number of women in these fields is important.

“To me it’s just very encouraging to be part of such an effort,” Sugaya said. “I come from physics and the number of women is pretty low there, so just being part of a really progressive effort like this has been very exciting for me.”

Tapia said she wants students to realize that computer science involves more than staring at a computer.

“I think this perception that you sit in front of a computer all day is so far from the truth,” Tapia said. “I think computer science is the opposite — it’s the field that opens you up to being able to do anything.”

Mikhaela Smith is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @MikhaelaSmith18.