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Grace Series Continues to Empower and Inspire Virtually – Part 1

Throughout history, women have made extensive contributions to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and through this, they have influenced eras and changed the world. The need for women in STEM is ever-growing, with women continuing to comprise one of the world’s strongest growing workforces. Over the past two semesters, the Grace series, presented virtually, featured six inspiring female technology community members. This included Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham, UT Dallas CS Professor, Louis A. Beecherl Jr. Distinguished Professor, Founders Chair Professor, and a Fellow of ACM, IEEE, AAAS and NAI, Dr. Betty Stewart, University of North Texas (UNT) at Dallas Provost, Executive Vice-President for Academic Affairs, and tenured Professor of Chemistry at the UNT, Neeti Khaitan Gupta, President, and CEO of Accelerate Consulting Inc., Juliet G. Odima, CSM, CSPO, Executive Director, STEAM Achievers Associate Vice President, and Director, School of Data Science and Analytics, Colaberry Inc., Shobana Radhakrishnan, Director of Engineering for Android TV at Google, and Seda Maurer, Digital Accessibility Consultant at Seda Maurer Consulting. Each speaker’s talk was unique to their own story and journey and showcased discussions on self-determination, goals, and journeys of leading women in tech.

The Grace Series Talks at UT Dallas generally feature a wide range of speakers, including UT Dallas Computer Science and Software Engineering alumni, UT Dallas CS/SE professors, as well as other distinguished female and male technologists in the field. Drs. Pushpa KumarJanell Straach, and Linda Morales conceived the idea of the UT Dallas Grace Series as a result of attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference (GHC) several years ago. Through the years, additional faculty members have become involved with the series, including Dr. Karen Mazidi and Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham. The conference, fittingly named after the woman who helped pioneer computer programming, Rear Admiral Dr. Grace Murray Hopper, has involved presentations designed to bring research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront. Every year, GHC brings together the community of female and male technologists, highlighting the best minds in computing and spotlighting the contributions of women to computing. The UT Dallas Computer Science Grace Series lectures are fashioned after the GHC Conference format.

The first talk of the Fall 2020 Virtual Grace Series featured Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham, UT Dallas CS Professor, Louis A. Beecherl Jr. Distinguished Professor, Founders Chair Professor. She is the Founders Chair Professor of Computer Science and the Executive Director of the Cyber Security Research and Education Institute at the University of Texas at Dallas. She is an elected Fellow of the ACM, IEEE, the AAAS, the NAI. Her research interests are in integrating cybersecurity and artificial intelligence/data science for the past 35 years. She has received several awards, including the IEEE CS 1997 Technical Achievement Award, ACM SIGSAC 2010 Outstanding Contributions Award, the IEEE Comsoc Communications and Information Security 2019 Technical Recognition Award, and the ACM CODASPY 2017 Lasting Research Award. Her work has resulted in 130+ journal articles, 300+ conference papers, 170+ keynote and featured addresses, six US patents, and fifteen books.

In Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham’s talk titled “Integrating Cyber Security and Data Science: Diversity and Inclusion,” she discussed how the representation of women and historically underrepresented minority communities has increased in Engineering and Computer Science in recent years. However, she noted that in many disciplines of computing, including in Cyber Security and Data Science, women and minority communities remain vastly under-represented. While the female population is around 10% in cybersecurity and approximately 25% in data science, the minority communities such as the black communities are even less well represented. Dr. Thuraisingham noted, “There is an urgent need to address this substantial under-representation of women and minority communities in cybersecurity and data science.” In her presentation, she provided a technical discussion on the integration of cybersecurity and data science, including machine learning for malware analysis, adversarial machine learning, and data privacy, and then discussed why women and minority communities should pursue a career in such a high demand field.

The second talk in the virtual Grace Series featured Dr. Betty Stewart, Provost, Executive Vice-President for Academic Affairs and tenured Professor of Chemistry at the University of North Texas at Dallas (UNT). She earned a Ph.D. with a specialization in protein biochemistry from Carnegie-Mellon University (PA). She has over twenty-seven years in higher education.  Before coming to UNT Dallas, she served as Provost and Vice-President for Academic Affairs at Midwestern State University at Wichita Falls, TX. Notable accomplishments during her academic career include developing the Biochemistry major at Austin College (TX), helping to revitalize the science programs, increasing undergraduate research, and leading the School of Mechanical Engineering through its first ABET accreditation while serving as dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at Midwestern State University (TX).

After earning tenure, Dr. Stewart’s senior colleagues recommended her to serve as department chair. She accepted the position with reluctance and served a successful six-year term. This experience led to her paradigm shift from full-time faculty to an administrator. Subsequently, she held progressively higher academic, administrative positions first as Dean, and then Vice-President and Provost, learning many leadership lessons along the way. “Being a leader means looking at the whole picture and making the best decisions that support student success and faculty development,” noted Dr. Stewart.  She regularly mentors STEM faculty interested in assuming university leadership roles from across the country through the national organization, Association of American Colleges and University/Project Kaleidoscope’s, Summer Leadership Institute. She also mentors females interested in higher education administration through the Higher Education Resource Services (HERS) program.

In her talk titled “Making the Paradigm Shift: My Journey from Faculty to Administrator,” Dr. Stewart shared her career journey and discussed her experiences along the way, giving one person’s perspective on higher education leadership. As a young, untenured faculty member, Dr. Stewart’s focus was on navigating the tenure process to earn her place in the academy. She knew she needed to focus on three main areas: teaching, scholarship, and service, to build a portfolio that would make her a strong candidate for tenure. Dr. Stewart used the experiences she acquired outside of the academy as a senior researcher to teach modern courses that provided students with the skills and knowledge to be good scientists. She redesigned traditional chemistry classes and laboratories to address current topics in the field and to give students an experience that would be life-changing.

The final talk of the Fall 2020 Virtual Grace Series featured Neeti Khaitan Gupta, who delivered her talk “Small Steps with Help Towards Growth”. In her talk, she spoke on a personal level about her long journey from her childhood to today and how each bump in the road made her stronger. She began her talk by speaking about her childhood trauma of contracting polio at the tender age of two from an infected vaccine, resulting in her becoming completely paralyzed. One of Polio’s side effects put her in a coma for a short period of time and near death for an extended period. However, the effects of polio covered her whole body and lasted for several years. Her physicians gave up on her many times. Doctors advised her parents that she would never walk or have a normal life. Neeti Gupta’s parents did not accept this and began taking her to top doctors in England, America, and across India. “My mom and dad are amazing human beings; I owe everything to my mom. She never let me feel or think that I had a disability,” remarked Gupta. By the time Ms. Gupta was 6 or 7, through lots of exercises, her upper body slowly began to come back, and she was able to start talking. However, she was still not able to move her lower body. Her parents then decided to move her to the south of India, where she would live with a man who promised that she would be able to walk by the end of a year. “What he did was something like a miracle, for the next year, he treated me with massages and exercises. After a year, he told her it’s time to get up and walk, and I was scared of him! It was like a scene from a Bollywood movie, I told him I couldn’t walk, but he kept telling me to get up! When I tried to get up, I immediately fell out of my chair because I was so weak. My mother came over to help me, but the doctor told my mother that if you help her today, then she will never help herself, so let her be, and she will figure it out. That was the start of the next phase of my life where I learned to get up, and with the help from the doctor and various others, I trained myself to use what I have without thinking of what I don’t have and train my body to walk. I am proud to say that today I am able to walk.” Despite all the hardship, she pulled through and persevered.

Her spirit and unique drive were forged in this crucible of despair and challenge. Despite this hardship, however, she pulled through and persevered. Neeti Gupta has since delivered many motivational speeches and has lectured on survivability.

Neeti Gupta returned to school and reconnected with her friends, and eventually graduate high school. After high school, she decided she wanted to come to the United States to attend college. She applied to multiple colleges and ultimately ended up at Pepperdine University in California. Neeti noted that those years were the best of her life. “I really thought the US was truly the land of opportunity! I was able to learn to drive, which made me feel like I was given a set of wings! It was the most beautiful feeling, and now I was able to drive fast because I couldn’t walk fast, and finally, I could move as fast as my mind could move!”

While in college, she learned the importance of asking for help. “It was one of the biggest lessons I had to learn was that It is OK to ask for help. Sometimes we shy away from asking for help because it can make us feel weak, but by asking for help, it makes both people feel stronger.” During her years in college, she felt that everything she was learning was important but what was even more important to her was that she was learning about life and herself. “It was time to learn about myself and how I felt, thought, and how I projected myself through my appearance and words.” She continued by saying, “At the end of my time at college, I had to present my senior thesis. I was worried about walking into a room of men and presenting my thesis; even though I knew my material very well, I was worried about how they would look at me! I kept worrying myself by thinking what they would focus on my disabilities, my accent, my appearance, and the fact that I was a woman. I kept asking myself how will I deal with these things? How will these people actually hear what I have to say and go beyond how I look and look at my subject matter?! I decided to speak to my professor about these worries, who smiled and told me that all these negative thoughts about myself were actually things that made me stand out. My professor advised me to use these to my advantage. I didn’t quite understand, but the next day I walked into the room of men with a smile and a walk full of confidence. I then noticed that no one was even bothered by the things that I was stressing myself out about. That led to my next lesson, where I learned to be myself and turn my negative feelings about myself into positive thoughts and take advantage of them because they make you stand out! Use what you have; you never know what will work in your favor. Every time someone told me that I couldn’t do something, I always tell them to wait and watch because I can do anything.”

Currently, Ms. Gupta serves as President and CEO of Accelerate Consulting Inc. Accelerate Consulting has SBE and HUB certifications and specializes in connecting corporate diversity initiatives with Minority and Women-owned Businesses. Ms. Gupta served as an Advisor of a Unified Communications Company, AGC Networks, and a Board Member of Aegis USA, a call center company. Prior to this, Ms. Gupta was the Chief Relationship Officer for Aegis Communications Group in Irving, Texas, a 60,000 people company.

Ms. Gupta has been in external organizations such as a key executive at the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce, Vistage Forum, the Young Entrepreneurs Organization (YEO), and the Dallas Round Table (DRT). A charter member of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TIE), Ms. Gupta sits on the board of the American India Foundation (AIF) Dallas, and the Executive Board of the US India Chamber of Commerce (USICOC). She is a founding member of the South-Central Board of the American Teleservices Association (ATA). Ms. Gupta’s non-profit affiliations include Rainbow Days, Hope’s Door, Ekal Foundation, Girl’s Inc and Pratham for Education, and Chetna, amongst others.

Prior to joining Aegis, Ms. Gupta was the Chief Executive Officer and President of e-Telequest, a call center company in Phoenix, Arizona. She has experience in business development, strategic planning, and organizational effectiveness. She played a crucial role in Qualcomm’s entry into the Indian market and was a significant consultant to the Chinese government on the implementation of call centers. She has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Pepperdine University, California. She lives in Dallas, Texas, with her husband and daughter.

Please stay tuned for part two.


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 3,315 bachelors-degree students, more than 1,110 master’s students, 165 Ph.D. students,  52 tenure-track faculty members, and 44 full-time senior lecturers, as of Fall 2019. 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.