Embracing the Necessity of Interconnectedness
“We are living in a #BlackLivesMatter and a #BlackGirlMagic
moment. We are the intersection of that. We are intersectionality.
We are multiplicity. Our sisterhood is our superpower and we were
made to be here. Black women are it,” Michaela Angela Davis roared
as I gleamed in the crowd. It was at the inaugural Black Women in
Computing conference that I witnessed powerful inspirational
speakers such as Davis and many others speak about their experiences
in the computing realm. Before attending this conference in January
of 2017, I had never truly realized the value and beauty of my mere
existence in the computing space. The words black, woman and
computing were rare enough to come together in a sentence; yet, I
was living that rareness every day. This conference allowed me to
realize that these attributes were not only unique in the computing
space, but highly sought after and necessary.
As a freshman, I refused to acknowledge or embrace these valuable attributes. I wanted to be treated the same as everybody else. I did not want my circumstance or experience to warrant any special attention. However, as crazy as it may sound, the very thing that I was running from was the exact thing that I was running to. Computer Science is a beautiful blend of many fields including engineering, mathematics, physics and logic. This interdisciplinary composite has been a key aspect in making computer science the prosperous and exciting field it is today. In many of my classes at the University of South Carolina (UofSC), I saw concepts arise in computer science and engineering (CSCE) classes that I had previously learned in MATH classes and vice versa. It was extremely enlightening to see the overlap in the information, the direct links between the fields, the glue that holds it all together. By experiencing the value and uniqueness of interconnectedness in computer science firsthand, I was able to learn to see the beauty of interconnectedness in myself. A sense of interconnectedness in any respective field, especially the sciences, is necessary because it breaks barriers, promotes innovation, and inspires generations for years to come.
As I sat in MATH 374: Discrete Structures going over truth tables in the first week of class, I felt a strange familiarity come over me. I already knew how to do truth tables. I had learned truth tables in CSCE 212: Introduction to Computer Architecture the year before. As I looked around at the perplexed math students in the room, I could only chant a silent cheer in my head for the familiar computing concept. Truth tables work to show us the result of logic operations in sets of data. The only difference with the truth tables in this class was that instead of using 0’s and 1’s, we were using T and F for true and false. Even though I was happy to see familiar information, a part of me asked, “am I in the right class?” What I soon learned was that truth tables were important in both computer architecture and in discrete structures. Though the concept was the same, the applications were different. For example, the assignment at the bottom of the screen on the left shows a homework assignment where we used truth tables to determine if a computer program would execute a block of code whereas the assignment at the bottom of the screen on the right shows an assignment that uses truth tables to determine the validity of a provided logical statement. My knowledge of truth tables was reaffirmed and expanded to a different field with entirely new applications. It was this moment that I first realized the overlap in computer science and mathematics. Before, the intermingled history of the two subjects was familiar but abstract. Yet there I was, looking at legitimate proof. Wow. This awareness gave me a deeper appreciation of the roots and history of computer science and its interconnectedness with my second love, mathematics. Before long, I would learn to appreciate these connections altogether.
MATH 527: Numerical Analysis focused on mathematical algorithms to solve large problems. The very first day of class entailed how to convert a decimal number to a binary number. The teacher asked if anyone could convert 1010 to decimal. I immediately said, “ten.” The entire class looked at me like I had solved some ancient math problem. I soon learned that I was the only computer science student in this particular section of the class. Therefore, I was the only person who had taken CSCE 211: Digital Logic Design where we learned to convert decimal numbers to any base including binary and vice versa. I could complete the entire algorithm in my head to solve all of the questions on the board with ease. The déjà vu of MATH 374: Discrete Structures fell over me. Here I was in another math class where computing concepts arose again. The knowledge and familiarity I had with the conversions from CSCE 211 made it easy to create a program that automatically converted decimal numbers to binary numbers. You can even see the program and sample output at the bottom of the page. Because I was a computer science major, it took me half the time to complete this assignment in the class. I began to realize that the intersections between computer science and math were a huge part of what made me enjoy the field even more. The classes that I enjoyed the most have been those where I saw similar concepts with different applications in the field. Being able to realize these connections was a rare attribute that came from majoring in computer science and minoring in mathematics. The interconnectedness within computing gave me an advantage in the environment that I was in. My connected experiences were valuable and necessary. All I had to do was realize and embrace it.
When I was granted the opportunity to attend both the 2016
National Society of Blacks in Computing Conference and the 2017
Black Women in Computing Conference, I was overjoyed and
hesitant. I did not know what to expect. I did not know how
attending these events would affect me. I understood and valued
diversity. What I did not understand was the importance of
community and support within diversification. Attending these
conferences enlightened me on important topics relative to the
African-American and female experiences in computing such as
dealing with imposter syndrome, defining and embracing
intersectionality, responding to microagressions, contextualizing
tokenism and taking care of yourself. For so long, I believed that
these topics were distant and unconnected, just as I thought the
fields of computing and math were at one point. It was this
conference and concepts such as truth tables and numerical
conversions that allowed me to see how interconnected the pursuit
of education could be. I provided a review of the BWIC conference
that was featured on the departmental website. Visit the article by clicking the picture above. In the article, I wrote briefly on how I did not even realize some of the problems facing the community were real problems. I was so moved by what I had learned, I later gave a presentation to the Minorities in Computing group at UofSC on the topics we discussed at the conference. I initiated some of the same activities that were done at the conferences such as roleplay with microagressions, "Name that time you almost quit", and "How to Ask for Help". The PowerPoint from this presentation is linked at the bottom of the page.
These conferences allowed me to understand the true meaning of diversity and inclusion. I could see how I played into the grand scheme of the direction the field is heading. The network and community I found from these conferences have greatly impacted my confidence in embracing my interconnected identity while in the computer science field.
Being an African-American woman in computer science, from rural South Carolina, grants me a unique set of experiences and perspectives. These past four years at the University of South Carolina have taught me to embrace these attributes instead of trying to brush them under a rug. By learning about computer science and witnessing its direct relationships with mathematics and other fields, I know that what makes this field unique is its genetic makeup of many other fields. Though it is fairly newer than engineering or math or physics, its interconnectedness is what makes it prized and stimulating. As I matured in my views throughout my undergraduate journey, I have learned that in order for progression to be made possible, interconnectedness is necessary. Computer science has helped to inspire this growth in both my intellectual and personal journeys by allowing me to realize and embrace these connections in all aspects of my life. I have become committed to increasing the percentage of underrepresented minorities in the computing space and sharing my learning experiences with the next generation of scientists to come. By promoting diversity within the computing field, both demographically and intellectually, I will continue to assure that interconnectedness is at the forefront of my objectives for the duration of my academic career.
Beyond The Classroom: Website feature of BWIC write-up, MIC meeting powerpoint
Within the Classroom: MATH 374 to CSCE 212 assignment comparison to show similarity with different applications, MATH 527 program code and sample output