People & Programs

Toward Diversity and Inclusion

TACC staff and leadership focus on creating intentional solutions

Racial and ethnic population change in the United States continues to reshape the American identity and the composition of its workforce. But there’s still a major problem that’s setting many students back: the lack of opportunities for women, African American/Black, Latinx, Native/Indigenous/First Nation, and Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders in science, technology, engineering, and math, better known as STEM.

Since 2011, TACC has made broadening participation central to the mission of the center — an effort led by the Education and Outreach (E&O) group. Broadening participation aims to build a pipeline of students who have historically been excluded from STEM fields. “Broadening participation couldn’t be realized without cultural and institutional change, particularly within higher education institutions,” said Rosalia Gomez, TACC’s Director of E&O.

The center’s efforts to recruit students underrepresented in STEM has led to more than 45 percent of participants in the center’s Code@TACC summer camps being first-generation college students. Overall, approximately 1,000 students have participated in Code@TACC, Back@TACC, and TACC’s undergraduate programs between 2015 and 2021.

TACC in Action

Here are just a few of the recommendations taking shape in TACC policies today.

Require bias training for all staff

Ensure inclusive language is used in job descriptions

Ensure new job opportunities reach applicants from underrepresented communities

Create annual staff climate survey with questions on race and gender

Create diversity-focused reporting website

Create internship and apprenticeship opportunities with first-generation students, women, and veterans in mind

Provide funding, resources, and networking opportunities to underrepresented STEM-based student organizations

In addition, TACC, along with Chaminade University and Georgia Tech, started a program called Supporting Pacific Indigenous Computing Excellence (SPICE) in 2019 through a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant focusing on increasing Native/Indigenous/First Nation including Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander participation. Since 2019, 86 percent of SPICE participants have identified with these communities.

“We know when we do something intentionally we have success that can replicate through all of the levels in our workforce,” said TACC Executive Director Dan Stanzione.

NSF recently made it a requirement that a principal investigator submitting a proposal has to also include a BPC (Broadening Participation in Computing) plan. However, prior to that, TACC’s E&O team was including strategic BPC programs in TACC proposals that helped the center win significant awards to make a lasting impact.

Now, the center is moving in an intentional way toward stronger diversity, inclusion, and equity policies. Chartered in September 2020, staff members created a volunteer Diversity and Inclusion Committee as a way to continuously make recommendations to address these important issues.

In 2021, the committee presented leadership with a set of recommendations across three areas: attracting a diverse workforce; creating a welcoming and inclusive environment; and promoting a diverse future computational/STEM workforce beyond TACC.

“Recognizing inequities and making changes is the right thing to do,” Gomez said. “Today, we’re taking a deeper look and making a shift as a center.”

Marques Bland, a senior program coordinator at TACC and a founding member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, knows that some organizations are resistant to making changes to diversity, inclusion, and equity. He’s worked for some of them in the past.

“TACC is one of the best places I’ve ever worked,” he said. “We recognize that efforts to make change need to be made. We’re not there yet — it takes a long time for these things to happen, but starting is important.”

At this time, the committee’s recommendations are primarily focused on gender and racial diversity; however, the recommendations will continue to change as TACC evolves as an organization.

“There is always more that TACC can do,” Stanzione said. “The need for making diversity and inclusion a constant thought and high priority is an ever-present need.”