My Pledge to Diversity & Inclusion
My name is David Paulius (Ramos). I am from the twin island federation of St. Kitts & Nevis, and I was born in Venezuela. I identify as a male (he/him), and I identify as multiracial. Here is my statement towards diversity in STEM.
I want my research and mentorship to emphasize on the inclusion of minority groups in computer science and engineering, such as Black/African/Caribbean/African-American, Latino/Latinx, and Pacific Islanders/Pasifika, and Native/Indigenous Americans. Such technologies can have significant impacts to solve problems faced by these groups and societies, whether in the US or abroad.
Diversity can be defined as "the inclusion of different types of people (such as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization", where the key word, in my opinion, is inclusion. Growing up in the Caribbean as an individual of mixed descent has shown me just how important it is for one to feel like they belong and can contribute to the society they grow up in. It can be a challenge to define one's identity and to navigate a world where there are not many persons who look like you or think like you. Sometimes you want to be looked at more than just your colour and supposed status. I observed a similar phenomenon back in the Caribbean, but I felt it even more in the melting pot known as the United States. There is an apparent division among ethnic groups, and this is where we need more open-minded thinking and understanding. In STEM, groups such as Blacks/Africans, Latinx, Pasifikas, American Indians and Alaskan Natives are severely underrepresented. However, science and engineering are not as exclusive as it is portrayed to be (where, for instance, many students struggle with mathematics, and as a result, they create a mental block within themselves). Many students feel like they do not have what it takes to make meaningful contributions through research. What students should get out of their education is the confidence to tackle problems, no matter how hard they may (seem to) be. On my home island, for example, there is a serious stigma against mathematics and many kids suffer from uninspiring experiences in school, but with the right guidance, we can challenge this negative mindset.
However, this is not a problem that can be solved overnight - it will take many years for us to attain a higher degree of fairness and equality. In times like these, minorities struggle to survive while systemic prejudice prevails. In terms of computing education, we see the same. Although our directions have significantly turned towards the inclusion minority populations over the past few years, we still have a lot to do to increase minority representation and diversity in computer science and engineering, where a lot lies in breaking misconceptions and bad habits. There is still a big discrepancy between the experiences faced by people of colour versus those who are white. Nevertheless, we can work towards that vision with small steps. I believe that it takes some encouragement for these students. It is important for them to see and work with people like them to instill the belief that they too can achieve success in their studies. A good professor should not coddle such students, but rather guide them and encourage them to stay in the field and overcome their challenges and circumstances.
Targeting brilliant minds early on is important! We should get younger children enthusiastic about science and learning!
We ought to target pre-university students; we should encourage younger students (such as high school students or entry-level university students) through activities such as boot camps, hack-a-thons, and school or lab visits to introduce them to the idea of conducting research and to show them that: 1) they can make significant strides in STEM, and 2) existing problems are hard but challenging and interesting.
In my experience at UVI, I participated as a student mentor as part of an NSF effort to introduce local high school students to programming and computing concepts for research (Broadening Participation in Computing, or BPC). I found that having young mentors like myself helped them to approach computer science and to communicate in a better way. In addition, efforts like these definitely help younger students to appreciate what computing offers them professionally and personally. These students, many who never programmed before, began to appreciate the many things you can do with programming as a tool for problem solving. Their firsthand experience with coding also showed them that even though it can be difficult at times to get the right answers, it is often times not impossible. Wherever I go, I want to be a part of outreach efforts like these and to implement similar ideas to increase participation among underrepresented groups.
I have previously given talks and tours to local high school students in Tampa who have visited our lab at USF. I particularly enjoyed speaking to those students who were from minority groups with a similar background such as Latinx and Black students, and I have definitely observed from firsthand experience that it is important to connect to interested students on a level that they can relate to you on different levels (such as equal thinking, similar backgrounds, etc.). Many of them come with questions and they leave with answers and even more questions that open their minds to the many problems we can solve through technology and computing; however, these additional questions pique their interests in science and encourage them to approach STEM problems as practical and impactful.
Having been an international student myself, I also want to provide research opportunities to eager international students so as to give them a chance to grow and to better themselves through higher education, just as I was fortunate to do in my graduate studies.
The same can be said (although in a different sense) for international students going abroad to study, where people may not understand the struggles in leaving your home country to try and further yourself and to perhaps make a living under safer or better circumstances. Some students (such as myself) cannot even study in their own countries or hometowns, because there are no institutions available for them to acquire a higher-level education and degree. It is also a hefty financial investment that we make when studying abroad. I want to be an advocate for international students, and I would like to help them navigate their studies and experiences here in the United States. I would like to explore how we can recruit more international students and make it easier for them to complete their studies. It is important for us to be open to persons of different cultures and backgrounds, as we leave long-lasting impressions upon them about us as a society and people. I personally uphold the importance of fostering relationships between all groups, cultures, races and genders. From their experiences here, we can help them improve their own homes and societies or to lead new developments for our world. This, I believe, causes a ripple effect, where we will see more improvements in international relations and human rights across the globe.