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Student Chapter of the ACM at UT Dallas Expands With More Opportunities and New Initiatives for Students

The Student Chapter of the ACM was founded in UT Dallas in the early 2000s. Since then, the official University of Texas at Dallas Student Chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) has grown by leaps and bounds, especially so in the last decade. Starting with just one division (ACM Industry) several years ago, ACM has since expanded rapidly with the launch of HackUTD, ACM Projects, ACM Labs, ACM Education and most recently, ACM Ignite. ACM UTD is focused on giving back to the computing community here at UT Dallas and beyond through events, projects, and much more. We recently spoke with ACM UTD President, Shannen Barrameda, about the ACM at UT Dallas and its growth. Below is our interview with her.


What are some initiatives that the UT Dallas ACM has done in the past five years?

There are a few new initiatives that we have started in the last five years. First, there is the Whiteboard Interview Prep (WIP) Series. Fall semester is very busy with technical interviews for software-related internships. Our Whiteboard Interview Prep (WIP) series was an initiative to provide ACM members and non-members alike the opportunity for preparation for these technical interviews by collectively working on common data structures and algorithms problems especially those featuring LeetCode.

Secondly, we have ACM Projects and ACM Ignite.  ACM Projects gives students the opportunity to jumpstart their career through a unique, complex side project that they can show off on their resume. Students work in small teams of 5 or 6 with guidance from an AT&T mentor and ACM Projects officer (who is also a past participant). This exclusive opportunity allows participants not only to boost their resume, but also to learn new languages/frameworks outside of the CS degree plan and gain critical soft skills such as teamwork, project management, independent learning, and collaboration. At the end of the semester, each team presents their product to a panel of judges and compete for the award of the best product. You can read our ACM Projects blog here.

Generally, we have 100 or so ACM Project applicants per semester, but we have seen growth to over 300 applicants for two consecutive semesters (Fall 2018 and Spring 2019). As a result, we have struggled to accommodate such interest, and have accepted only the top 30 or so students after a rigorous application and interview process.

We have noticed a surge of applicants who are far too experienced for ACM Projects, and thus inaugurated ACM Ignite this semester. The goal of Ignite is to cultivate a more entrepreneurial mindset for highly experienced individuals. At the end of the semester, all participants are evaluated based on which product is most business oriented.

We also started ACM Labs. ACM Labs builds open-source projects for the community. Our most significant and successful project is UTD Grades, which allows students to view grade distributions for UTD classes from previous semesters. The tool is intended to help students pick classes for course registration and generally allow them to make more informed decisions. The service is provided to the UTD community completely free of charge without any advertising. The website can hit as high as 4.4k users in daily views during class registration periods. ACM Labs builds and maintains the project while The Mercury supports the project by paying for and requesting the semesterly grade data from the University.

How has the UTD ACM grown in the last five years?

Our team has grown from just 5 to over 35 officers helping to organize our yearly HackUTD hackathon, supporting students through ACM Projects, developing software through ACM Labs, and providing outreach and education through ACM Education. After having existed in two previous iterations starting from as early as 1996, ACM UTD began in its current form in 2013 beginning with ACM’s oldest division, our Industry Series events, which we continue to host with our corporate partners to this day. Starting with just one division (ACM Industry) 6 years ago, ACM has since expanded rapidly with the launch of HackUTD, ACM Projects, ACM Labs, ACM Education and most recently, ACM Ignite.

Over the years, our divisions grew organically as we found needs in the CS community that we could address. Each division aims to tackle a specific goal or problem that our own officers and members have identified. Our goal is to grow sustainably to ensure each division is serving its purpose effectively while also ensuring that we are making the largest possible impact on the community with our available resources. In line with this goal, we have refocused and relaunched divisions over the years in response to feedback from the community. For example, we have evolved our Industry events to make them more applicable to our members by focusing on recruitment opportunities and strengthening technical skills instead of merely having companies share information about themselves.

What are some of the most notable ACM events in the past five years?

Our Fall 2018 kick-off saw more than 400 students attend in order to learn more about ACM and our partner organizations. HackUTD ‘19, our most recent annual hackathon, was held in the ECSW building and saw more than 600 participants build software projects over an entire 24-hour period. There were over 100 submitted team projects. We also have lots of industry tech-talks, which include companies like Google, JPMorgan Chase, State Farm, Nvidia, AT&T, CBRE, and many more. Two years ago, 150 students attended the Nvidia Industry talk about Deep Learning, which was fascinating.

Does the ACM work with other student organizations at UTD?

Yes, of course! We collaborate with other student organizations such as the UT Dallas Student Game Developer Alliance (SGDA), AI Society (AIS), UTD Blockchain, the UT Dallas Mercury, Cyber Security Group (CSG), IEEE, Women Who Compute (WWC), Society of Women Engineers (SWE), Women in Technology and Business (WiTB), and more. When we are working with other organizations to create an event, we find an intersection of interest between both organizations and provide members a workshop related to those shared areas of interest. Recent activities include having the Comet Marketing organization helped us out with rebuilding our brand. We recently had a photo shoot with them in order to make our social media more uniform. Be on the lookout for our officer spotlights, which will feature photos taken during this shoot

How do tech industry members help the UTD ACM?

We often work with companies like State Farm, Twitter, CBRE, Google, JPMorgan Chase, NVIDIA, and more. Tech industry members help us host recruitment events and by getting students interested in cutting-edge technology such as Machine Learning and autonomous systems, VR (Virtual Reality), IoT (Internet of Things), and other fields. Industry members such as State Farm, CBRE, JPMorgan Chase, and AT&T, frequently host workshops or recruitment events. Industry members often volunteer to be mentors, event hosts, and judges for presentation night. Working with companies essentially results in their continued contact and attendance at other events as judges and for networking. All of this is impossible without the help of our Assistant Dean of Student Development, Jerry Alexander, and his Industrial Practice Programs (IPP) team.

Industry members also serve as mentors for ACM Projects. Each team works closely with a mentor from AT&T (business analysts and software developers), who helps their team with the project’s system design as well as general career advice. Every year our annual hackathon, HackUTD, works with various companies ranging from young startups to established corporations. This year, State Farm was HackUTD’s title sponsor, but other companies like Atos, Alliance Data, Citi, Fannie Mae, Allstate, CoreLogic, and Match also work with us to ensure a well-run event.

ACM Networking Social events are very popular among students. Our Socials allow our large officer group (approximately 35 people) to get to know one another and connect professionally. A lot of our alumni have gone on to work for top tech companies, and being able to interact with others who have had internships with these companies is extremely valuable.

What kind of outreach and volunteering events has the UTD ACM?

Our team has volunteered to judge science fairs, attend career days, inspire girls and women in STEM, and this semester started working with Empower Through Code to teach computer science to girls in low-income areas around UT Dallas and the general Dallas area. We plan to continue having opportunities for our members to bridge the computer science gap with middle and high schoolers!

How many students are currently apart of the ACM?

We currently do not have an official membership, but we have over 1,000 students on our mailing list. As mentioned previously, we had 400 or so students come out for our kick-off event at the start of the fall semester. The officer teams, which include the Board of Directors, Projects, HackUTD, and Ignite, consist of about 40 students.

What can we expect from the UTD ACM in the future?

We are expanding ACM Ignite to include more participants and will transition it into a startup-style competition, matching students together from all majors who have entrepreneurship, design, and/or development aspirations, in order to work together on building a product from the ground up. We plan to have a sizable cash prize and a final competition day. Stick around for more details!

In regards to ACM Labs, UTD Grades was the largest success ACM labs has had, and we hope to continue making an impact with open source engineering projects benefiting all UTD students, not just CS majors.

We are also planning to expand ACM Projects. We currently have six teams in ACM Projects this semester, but we hope to have as many as 8-10 teams next year!

We plan to continue to work across disciplines.  As interest in developing and working with technology grows in other schools within the University, we plan to expand beyond the engineering community by tailoring events and workshops to accommodate business principles and more. We intend to continue working with Empower Through Code to inspire and teach computer science to girls in low-income areas around UTD and Dallas.

Although the UTD Freshman mentor program is an excellent resource for incoming students, we plan to provide a more career-oriented CS mentor program where students can be paired with upperclassmen who have already obtained one or more internships and learn all the ins and outs of the interview process.

What are some interesting facts about UTD ACM?

Although we are a professional organization, we all know how to have fun! We have grown close through the past few years, and despite seeing each other more than three times weekly, we still often hang out together outside of meetings or events. We don’t know how we’re not tired of each other just yet!

We are all involved in more than just ACM at UTD, as many of us are a part of other organizations such as the Computer Science Mentor Center (CSMC), Empower through Code, Student Media, FSA, etc.

UTD ACM participants from every division of ACM have gone on to work/intern at top companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and more!

 

Learn more about the ACM at UT Dallas by visiting their website, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter!  


ABOUT THE UT DALLAS COMPUTER SCIENCE DEPARTMENT

The UT Dallas Computer Science program is one of the largest Computer Science departments in the United States with over 2,800 bachelors-degree students, more than 1,000 master’s students, 190 Ph.D. students,  52 tenure-track faculty members, and 41 full-time senior lecturers, as of Fall 2018. With The University of Texas at Dallas’ unique history of starting as a graduate institution first, the CS Department is built on a legacy of valuing innovative research and providing advanced training for software engineers and computer scientists.

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