The Student Chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) was founded at UT Dallas in the early 2000s. Since then, the official University of Texas at Dallas Student Chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery has continued to build on its existing initiatives and has started many new initiatives. ACM UT Dallas has launched four new divisions to provide more opportunities for students to be actively involved. ACM UT Dallas is focused on giving back to the computing community here at UT Dallas and beyond through events, projects, outreach, and much more. We recently spoke with ACM UT Dallas President Saksham Sangraula and ACM UT Dallas Vice Presidents Jocelyn Heckenkamp and Reshmi Ranjith about the ACM at UT Dallas and its growth. Below is our interview with them.
What initiatives has the UT Dallas ACM done in the past five years?
We have continued to improve our existing initiatives, such as ACM Projects, ACM Research, HackUTD, and UTD Grades. We have also started a few new initiatives such as Hacktoberfest, GameJam, ACM Technical Interview Prep (TIP) Program, and ACM Community, including ACM Celebration Night, ACM Yearbook, and ACM Outreach.
ACM UTD created UTD Grades a few years ago, and we have been maintaining it ever since. We have added new features like search auto-complete in UTD Grades and updated the site with new grades each semester. UTD Grades has allowed students to view grade distributions for many classes, and we have had over 500,000 visits to the website since its creation. One of our first initiatives, ACM Projects, has continued to provide students, especially freshmen and sophomores, with the opportunity to build a mobile or web app together with a team of 5 or 6 students guided by an industry mentor and ACM Projects officer. Since Fall 2020, our Industry team has made it possible for each team to have an industry mentor, an industry professional currently working in the tech industry. Our Industry team has partnered with many companies such as American Airlines, Goldman Sachs, State Farm, Paycom, EOG Resources, and Capital One to organize industry events and provide an inside view of the tech industry to students. We organize HackUTD every year, and during Fall 2020, we also organized GameJam, a hackathon where students could create games during the virtual semester.
After the successful iterations of ACM Projects, we created ACM Research to introduce students to academic research in CS and ACM Technical Interview Prep (TIP) to help students prepare for technical coding interviews. We started ACM Research in Fall 2020, and each semester we have six teams consisting of 4 students and a Research lead, and a faculty advisor. Many UT Dallas CS professors have volunteered their time to help advise our teams and guide them through their research topics about a particular subfield in computer science. The research projects include topics like quantitative finance, biology, machine learning, music, and more. ACM TIP has been successful over the semesters since its inception in Spring 2021. Our TIP leads help students master technical interview questions covering topics like arrays, linked lists, heaps, trees, graphs, dynamic programming, and more.
There are also a few new initiatives we started for the first time. In Fall 2020, ACM UT Dallas organized its Hacktoberfest event inspired by the Digital Ocean’s initiative to encourage people to contribute to open source. This 12-hour-long event was a partnership with 15+ partner student organizations on campus, and we organized 37 events which led to 400+ participants, 135 open source pull requests, and 20,000+ lines of code committed. In Fall 2020, we created our discord community that allowed students at UT Dallas to connect during the virtual semesters, and we still have an active student discord community of around 3,000 members. Recently, we started Community, a new division in ACM UT Dallas that focuses on organizing social events, outreach events, annual Celebration events, ACM Olympics, and an annual ACM Yearbook.
How has the UT Dallas ACM grown in the last five years?
We have grown a lot in the last five years. We now have more than 75 officers and an active discord community of around 3000 students. We also have added four new divisions: ACM Development, ACM Research, ACM Media, and ACM Community which has allowed us to expand our initiatives and provide more opportunities.
We also have collaborated with ACM Student chapters and clubs at different universities. We organized an Amazon Honeycode event with students from The University of Virginia and The University of Alaska Fairbanks. To share different experiences in college, we also partnered with the ACM Chapters of Texas A&M University and The University of Texas at San Antonio for a workshop on Navigating College Life and Mental Health. We are excited about our growth because it has allowed us to directly connect with our members and provide various opportunities and resources.
What are some of the most notable ACM events in the past five years?
We have organized many large-scale and impactful events to increase student engagement. HackUTD is ACM UT Dallas’s annual hackathon where students all across UT Dallas can join the event to build a technical project with a team, connect with other students, meet our sponsors, and participate in fun events planned by the HackUTD team. Last semester, we had over 800 participants at HackUTD, which became the largest hackathon in Texas.
ACM Projects Presentation Night and ACM Research Symposium are great events we look forward to every semester. Each semester ACM Projects get better and better, and it’s amazing to see students work together to build amazing apps and showcase exciting demos. ACM Research participants are passionate about their research topics, provide in-depth explanations of their findings, and inspire students to participate in academic research during the Research Symposium. ACM Mentor Program kickoff and major ACM Education events also bring in more than 100 student mentors and mentees to discuss mentorship and connect with other students on campus.
We also organize our kickoff event at the start of every semester and usually have around 500 students in attendance to learn more about ACM UT Dallas, our programs, and partner student organizations.
How do tech industry members help the UT Dallas ACM?
Without our industry sponsors, we would not be able to organize successful programs and develop impactful initiatives. Our sponsors provide a lot of resources and support throughout the year. American Airlines, Goldman Sachs, State Farm, Paycom, EOG Resources, and Capital One sponsored ACM UT Dallas for the 2021 to 2022 school year.
Our sponsors organize industry events with us so that students can get an inside view of the technology industry and connect with industry professionals. This year, our sponsors from American Airlines organized multiple React workshops to help students learn about front-end web development. Engineers and recruiters from Goldman Sachs demoed the Alloy platform created by Goldman Sachs, which lets users design, build, and publish data pipelines. State Farm software developers shared what it’s like transitioning from college to being a full-time employee. Recruiters from Paycom shared what it’s like to work at Paycom and the opportunities available there. Software developers at EOG Resources shared how the supply chain of data helps enable EOG Resources to operate as a real-time, mobile, and transparent company.
Each of our sponsors also came to HackUTD to give away company-specific swag and connect with students. Our sponsors also provided opportunities for our members to participate in virtual coffee chats so that students could talk directly to industry professionals and ask questions. One of our sponsors, State Farm, brought cookies and hot chocolate for our end-of-semester event in the Fall, and Goldman Sachs gave away prizes for our Project participants. We are very grateful to have amazing sponsors who are always supportive.
Does the ACM work with other student organizations at UT Dallas?
There are many fantastic student organizations at the Jonsson School, and each of them benefits students in unique ways. So, we constantly try to collaborate with other student organizations and work together to make a greater, more collaborative computing community at UT Dallas.
UT Dallas students from student organizations in ECS shared their experiences as women in STEM, and it was an empowering and inspiring event. We have collaborated with Women in Stem (WinSTEM), Women Who Compute (WWC), Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS), Society of Women Engineers (SWE), Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), Women Mentoring Women in Engineering (WMWE), and IEEE for a Women in STEM Panel in March 2022 to celebrate Women’s History Month. We have also collaborated on technical workshops with AI Society (AIS), Computer Security Group (CSG), UTD Blockchain, and other student organizations on campus. It’s always fun to organize collaborations, and we are excited to continue working together with other student organizations on campus.
How many students are currently a part of the ACM UT Dallas?
We have approximately 3,000 students in our ACM UT Dallas Discord community, where students can connect with each other. We also have hundreds of students participating in our programs like ACM Projects, Research, Technical Interview Prep Program, Mentor Program, and attending events like Industry events, ACM Education workshops, Coding Hangouts, etc. This year, our members have also helped us create our annual yearbook. Our members’ interest and willingness to participate have inspired us to increase opportunities for members to participate. Consequently, we have created a new division in ACM called ACM Community which will help our members become more actively involved with initiatives like Yearbook, ACM Olympics, planning Celebration Night events, outreach events, organization fair events, general meetings, and other new initiatives in ACM UT Dallas.
What kind of outreach and volunteering events have the ACM UT Dallas started?
We are actively working to organize more outreach events to introduce Computer Science to students, especially in low-income areas. This semester, we participated in the STEM fair organized by Skyview Elementary School, where we introduced students to computer science and free resources to start learning to code like Scratch, Khan Academy, Code.org, etc. Seeing elementary school students learn so quickly and get excited about coding and making games was impressive. Our members have also shown a lot of interest in sharing their stories about how they started with CS and helping younger students get introduced to coding. We are excited to organize more outreach events to help elementary school students and middle and high schoolers get involved in CS and know they belong in tech.
Can students outside of CS be involved in ACM UT Dallas?
Yes, we welcome students from all majors and backgrounds to be involved in ACM UT Dallas. We have officers pursuing degrees in Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Computer Engineering, Electrical Engineering, ITS, Finance, Marketing, and other majors across UT Dallas. We encourage all UT Dallas students who are interested in learning more about Computer Science and technology, in general, to be involved in ACM. We have a supportive team of officers and members from a variety of majors and backgrounds, and our mission is to support students who may be a little intimidated by Computer Science and help them understand that they belong. Many of our events, like industry events, coding hangouts, and introductory workshops, are designed to help students get introduced to technology, connect with other students, and learn new skills.
What opportunities are available for students other than ACM UT Dallas Programs like Projects, Research, and TIP?
We receive many applications for programs like Projects, Research, and TIP every semester, and we can’t select everyone for these programs every semester. But we have many other opportunities that are beneficial to students. All students can join Industry events to connect with our sponsors and learn about the tech industry; they can go to Coding Hangouts (a weekly informal meeting where students can connect with new people and discuss side projects and ideas) and participate in technical workshops that ACM Education organizes (in the past, we have organized CS Essentials Series, Game Development Workshop Series, AWS Series and more).
Sometimes, students think that getting accepted into ACM Projects, ACM Research or ACM TIP are the only ways to get involved in ACM, however, we have so many other opportunities to be involved. I can understand that not being selected for Projects, Research, or TIP can be a little disappointing – I also did not get into Projects when I first applied! Still, I discovered that ACM had other helpful opportunities like Industry events, workshops, and general meetings. And now, ACM Community has become our newest division; members can also be involved in planning for ACM Olympics (a large event where ACM UT Dallas members can compete in games like Frisbee, Soccer, Chess, and more), creating ACM UT Dallas’s annual yearbook, organizing Celebration Night events, general meetings, socials, organization fairs, and outreach opportunities to help introduce Computer Science to younger students. Students can also join the ACM Mentor Program as a mentor to help underclassmen navigate their college life better or as a mentee to get support from a mentor.
What can we expect from the UT Dallas ACM in the future?
We are excited about our future initiatives and programs. We will continue to organize successful programs like Projects, Research, TIP, Mentor Program, and impactful events like HackUTD, Industry events, Coding hangouts, and Education workshops.
We also will create more initiatives and opportunities under the Community division. We recently started an annual yearbook and began organizing events like End of Semester Celebration, Outreach events, general meetings, and other fun events which is open to everyone. I’m sure we’ll continue to build on our existing initiatives and create more opportunities to help our members in CS and beyond be more actively included and involved in ACM UT Dallas.
What are some interesting facts about UT Dallas ACM?
We are focused on giving back to the Erik Jonsson Computer Science (ECS) community with our programs and initiatives, but we also love to have fun and socialize. So, you might find our officers having socials at Feng Cha, Ding Tea, and other places around campus.
We recently started giving out awards (small trophies) and recognition to our active members. We usually give away a lot of swag in our main events like the End of Semester Celebration event. We also enjoy playing board games (some officers especially like chess) and try to bring board games to our general meetings. I like to believe that we are a pretty cool group of students who enjoy what we do and are focused on making an impact while having fun!
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 4,000 bachelors-degree students, more than 1,010 master’s students, 140 Ph.D. students, 52 tenure-track faculty members, and 42 full-time senior lecturers, as of Fall 2021. 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.