Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham, Founders Chair Professor of Computer Science and Founding Executive Director of the Cyber Security Research and Education Institute, received the Special Recognition Award at the IEEE Cyber Security Cloud Conference sponsored by the IEEE Technical Committee on Smart Computing for “tireless efforts in DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) in Cyber Security, Cloud and Data Science” on June 26, 2021.
Dr. Thuraisingham has worked to promote DEI for over 20 years. “Having grown up as a Tamil in Sri Lanka for the first 20 years of my life, I understand first-hand the tragedy that can result from racial discrimination and racial violence. And, one of the most memorable moments of my life was to visit the jail cell of Nelson Mandela in 1999, at Robben Island during a trip to Cape Town, South Africa, for a computing conference. Since then, I have been extremely motivated and actively involved in DEI by working with diverse communities, especially with women and more recently with African American, Hispanic American, and the LGBTQ communities in cybersecurity, cloud, and data science,” she said.
Since 1999 she started giving talks to various women in technology groups and became active in DEI. Her first such talk was at the Women in Technology International (WITI) conference in Cary, North Carolina, in September 1999 while she was with the MITRE Corporation. After that, she worked with a broader group such as the female students at Smith College, motivating them to pursue careers in Computer Science as well as gave featured talks, including at the Society of Women Engineers Conference. While working at the National Science Foundation as a program director, she worked hard to promote Computer Science research at EPCSoR states such as Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana and was one of the early pioneers of Women in Cyber Security together with professors at the University of Buffalo participating on panels on this topic since 2004. She was also active in CRA-W panels on career mentoring during that time.
After joining UT Dallas in Fall 2004 to direct the Cyber Security Research and Education Institute, she has been highly active in recruiting students from female and minority communities. Out of the 23 Ph.D. students she expects to have graduated by 2022 at UTD, 12 are women, in addition to some from the African American, Hispanic American, and LGBTQ communities. She has also served as the main Co-PI of UTD’s NSF SFS program since 2010 and has worked to recruit students from diverse groups at the Masters’ level and also started mentoring female undergraduate students at UTD on research in cyber security since Fall 2019. She has continued to give featured and keynote addresses at various events since 2008, such as the Dallas Chapter for the Society of Women Engineers, the DFW ATW (Association for Women in Technology), TRUST-WISE program at Cornell University, ACM Cyber-W (Women in Cyber Security Research), Women in Communications Engineering at IEEE GlobeCom, and institutions such as Texas Southern University. She kicked off UTD’s Grace lecture series and served as CRA-W Distinguished Lecturer in 2015. Then in 2016, she co-chaired the 800-person Women in Cyber Security Conference, gave a keynote address at Cyber-W in 2017 (Women in Cyber Security Research), and gave a featured address at Stanford University’s Women in Data Science Event in 2018, which according to Forbes had around 100,000 attendees around the world. She is a co-director of both UTD’s Women in Cyber Security and Women in Data Science Centers and has organized local conferences in these fields since 2017 and is also a co-founder of the Women in Services Computing Workshop and co-chaired the event in 2017 and 2018.
While working from home during the pandemic, her work on DEI increased even more, including giving numerous keynote addresses such as ACM Cyber-W 2020, ACM CCS iMentor Workshop 2020, ACM CODASPY 202I and Women in Communications Engineering India in March 2021 to celebrate International Women’s Day. She also chaired DEI panels, including at IEEE ISI Conference in 2020. Her recent talks have focused on the role of mentoring to promote DEI where she gives examples from her own experiences. She puts her thoughts and words into action by mentoring female students at DFW high schools (e.g., in Frisco and Allen) and has given talks at Girls Who Code during 2020-2021. She has also worked as an official mentor to UTD’s Office of Sponsored Research’s Road to Washington Program since 2019 and has served as a judge for UTD’s ACM student research competition. Over the years, Thuraisingham has strongly supported the cause for preventing violence against women and children and has advocated the need for educating the most vulnerable groups. At most of her talks, she stresses that “Being financially Independent is a Must for Every Woman.” She encourages women to pursue careers in high-paying fields like Cyber Security and Data Science. She also gave a featured address at ACM CODASPY 2020 titled “Can AI be for Good in the Midst of Cyber Attacks and Privacy Violations” and used violence against children as an example application.
“While I have done quite a bit on DEI, I believe that I have only scratched the surface and need to do a lot more, especially for minority groups, including the African American, Hispanic American, and the LGBTQ communities. I would like to partner with minority institutions to organize events in cybersecurity, cloud, and data science and also give talks at events hosted by groups such as Career Communications Group, Inc. Since April 2021, I have taken on roles as diversity chair at prominent conferences (e.g., IEEE ICDE). I will be motivating members from diverse communities to submit papers to such top-tier venues. We also need to focus more on attracting diverse groups of candidates to apply for faculty positions. This is going to be one of my major focus areas over the next decade as I continue to mentor high school students, undergraduate and graduate students, and junior faculty. Finally, one of the new research directions I am pursuing at present is on Fairness and Anti-Discrimination in AI/Data Science” she added.
In addition to her recent award at the IEEE Cyber Security Cloud Conference, she has also received several recognitions, including the 2001 Woman of Color Research Leadership Award from Career Communications Inc., Top 5 Women in Cyber Security from Academia in 2017 by the Security Magazine, the Dallas Business Journal’s 2017 Women in Technology Award, and Top 10 Women in Cyber Security in 2019 by the Cyber Defense Magazine. She was also named one of 12 women who have made an impact in technology over three centuries by the Wilson Group in 2020 that included the legends Ada, Countess of Lovelace and Admiral Grace Hopper.
“DEI has to be part of every aspect of our work from student recruitment and training as well as faculty hiring and mentoring. This should be our goal, and we are far from achieving this goal. However, if each of us can focus on something small to support DEI, we can collectively achieve a lot. I am fortunate to have had a very rewarding and enriched 40-year career and have achieved a lot with respect to my technical work in terms of papers, books, patents, keynote addresses, and research awards. Therefore, I am now at that stage of my career where I can spend a lot more time promoting DEI and carrying out mentoring. The success of our students and the junior faculty will be my success,” she concluded.
“I first met Bhavani in 1997 at the IFIP 11.3 Database Security Conference when I was a PhD student at MIT. Bhavani took an interest in my research and motivated me throughout my PhD and early career. Over the years, I have seen her support of others and she has been an important inspiration”, said Professor Latanya Sweeney, the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and Technology at Harvard University’s Kennedy School and in the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “Bhavani is a champion for diversity. She is an excellent and inclusive team-builder, who makes everyone feel welcome. She is also an outstanding mentor to junior faculty. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award” said Associate Professor Alvaro Cardenas from the University of California at Santa Cruz who was previously an Assistant and then Associate Professor and a Eugene McDermott Faculty Fellow at The University of Texas at Dallas. “Bhavani was instrumental in hiring me at UT Dallas as an assistant professor and mentoring me. I would not have had the career that I am having if not for her encouragement and support”, said Professor Murat Kantarcioglu who is an Ashbel Smith Professor of Computer Science, an NSF CAREER award winner, a AAAS Fellow and a recipient of awards from IEEE and ACM. “Dr. Bhavani was my co-advisor for my PhD at the University of Texas at Dallas and she mentored and supported me throughout my graduate education. I could turn to her for any issue and she will be there and advising me” said Dr. Maryam Imani who is now a Data Scientist at Walmart Labs in Silicon Valley. “Bhavani has been a role model for Women in Cyber Security and Women in Data Science, a tireless motivator, and an exceptional mentor. The junior faculty who she has mentored are now highly successful in their own careers. She is a great colleague to all of us and a tremendous asset to our department,” said Professor Ovidiu Daescu, Interim Department Head of Computer Science at the University of Texas at Dallas.
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