Brendan Iribe funds Diversity Initiatives in Computer Science at the University of Maryland


Brendan Iribe, cofounder of Oculus, has established a substantial fund to support the Department of Computer Science in various initiatives to encourage more women and other underrepresented students to take courses in and major in computer science at the University of Maryland.  Iribe’s gift will support the Center for Women in Computing, summer research experiences for undergraduates (REUs), and a speaker series highlighting women academics and industry representatives in computer science.

The department has been fortunate as its student body has become one of the most diverse in the country.  The number of women in the department has increased from 100 to more than 600 over the course of four years, and the numbers of underrepresented students has increased substantially as well.  Iribe’s gift will allow for programs to increase recruitment efforts and ensure retention of underrepresented students in computer science.

“Brendan has been incredibly passionate about the department and raising our profile. His generosity knows no bounds, and he was no doubt inspired by our fantastic programs here—like our computer science tutoring program as well as our struggles to fund them properly. This gift will have an impact on generations of students in a variety of ways,” said Samir Khuller, Professor and Elizabeth Stevinson Iribe Chair of Computer Science.  “His gift will also have a major impact on middle school students interested in learning more about computing, and it will provide students with research and networking opportunities. We are forever grateful to him for his generosity.”

The Maryland Center for Women in Computing (MCWIC) will be able to continue its Computer Science Connect Program (CompsciConnect), a three-year summer camp designed to introduce middle school girls to computing while building connections to each other and the world around them. The program allows girls to learn about the field in a welcoming, and warm environment.  They program robots, develop in Scratch, create dynamic web pages, and build basic virtual reality games.  “With Brendan Iribe 's gift, we are able to increase the number of students that participate in CompSciConnect from 75 students to about 130 students each summer. This curriculum is shared in after-school programs and other outreach throughout the year by our MCWIC Ambassadors,” said Jan Plane, Director for MCWIC.

MCWIC will also be able to continue its very popular tutoring program for first and second year students in computer science.  "We were swamped this week, which is great, and we had four tutors working fifteen house to help support first-year students in computer science.  Now that we have more funding we can support second-year students, and work to keep improving our retention rates," said Kate Atchison, Coordinator for MCWIC.

Jonelle Bowen,  CS undergraduate and Tutor for MCWIC.

A senior and computer science tutor for MCWIC, Jonelle Bowen, enumerated the ways that Iribe’s gift will help students.  She tutors students in CMSC 131 and 132, the introductory courses in the major.

She credits increased funding with being able to assist more students to ask questions they may not want to ask teaching assistants. “As students we are told that there are no stupid questions, but that doesn’t mean that you necessarily feel that way. When you have a tutoring program like this, you have the space to go in and ask all of your ‘basic questions’ without feeling like you’re being judged,” she said.

She also praised the space and time that the tutoring program and the funding will give to students. “Having a separate tutoring program definitely helps students understand the material instead of [their] just forcing their way through a project. It gives students the freedom and the space and comfort to ask questions. As a tutor I try to encourage students to pinpoint the place in which your gap of understand so that I can fill it,” Bowen added.

Finally, Iribe’s gift will allow many women in computer science to continue attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing for the next five years.  The Computer Science Department received funding from the Building, Recruiting and Inclusion for Diversity (BRAID) organization after Professor Samir Khuller applied to the program in 2014.  The funding ends this year, and Iribe has ensured that groups of undergraduates will be able to meet mentors, apply for internships, full-time positions, and graduate schools.  Iribe’s generosity supports the Department of Computer Science’s continuing diversity goals.

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