Fran Berman talks self-driving cars and data stewardship with Women in Tech

Fran Berman visited the Seidenberg Lounge in NYC on April 9th to discuss self-driving cars, data stewardship, and her latest projects on the social and environmental impacts of IoT. She spent time with the student-led Pace Women in Tech club, then sat in conversation with Professor Cathy Dwyer.

Fran Berman is an Edward P. Hamilton Distinguished Professor in Computer Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University, and a Fellow of the Harvard Data Science Initiative.

Fran discussed her latest project which focuses on the social and environmental impacts of IoT. Her focus is on maximizing the benefits of IoT while minimizing risks. The most talked about point was the ethical structure of IoT.

Fran also took the time to explain data stewardship: “[data stewardship] is about creating a home for data that both takes care of it now and takes care of it in the future.”

The distinguished professor’s latest passion is IoT’s potential inflience on cyber/physical-biological systems. She explained that the intersection of the subjects, with the addition of artificial intelligence, is “both an amazing thing and a scary thing.”

Fran illustrated her point using self-driving cars and the ethical thought process behind them. She made the point that a self-driving car has to make the same decisions humans must make while driving, including what to do in instances of an imminent collision.

“Each one of us has an ethical framework,” she said, suggesting that one day perhaps self-driving cars (as an example) would be programmed to make decisions based on the individual’s moral configuration rather than a standardization. IoT could make this possible.

Fran also identified some of the largest issues that graduates will encounter in their careers: industries are not turning to technologists to be leaders, and women are challenged when finding their place in the technology industry. But if Fran can do it, so can any female computer scientist—she’s a living example of female leadership in the technology industry.

As for what the future of technology looks like, “hopefully this is what it looks like,” Fran stated, indicating the many female students in the audience. 

One piece of advice Fran offered was the importance of getting involved. It’s a huge learning opportunity—one that students can truly benefit from.

“If you have clubs here, become an officer of the club,” Fran advised. Becoming a club officer is a notable accomplishment. If you’re excited about something, then you should get involved with it.

“Waking up every day and feeling really excited about what you do . . . that’s another super important thing,” Fran added.

One of the most significant things Fran spoke about was the concept of failure as a good thing. Failure, Fran suggested, is just a part of the process of life. If you mess up, then that’s how you end up figuring out how to do it better the next time. Failure is expected and should be celebrated!

As an example, Fran spoke about her first job. “When I first got there, I had no idea how to do all the stuff I was supposed to do.”

“If you don’t keep at it, you’re never going to figure it out.”

The biggest piece of advice that Fran focused on was a single word: resilience. She outlined the ways that resilience makes a great leader.

“At the end of the day, don’t give up. Find your own heart and passion in it, find a network of people who can go through it with you and support you, be strategic, and be resilient,” she said. “It’s not always easy, but if it’s important to you it’s always worthwhile.”

As for Fran’s time at Seidenberg, she only had good words: “I had a blast. I think everyone here is wonderful.”

We were so lucky to have Fran at the Seidenberg Lounge for this intriguing and empowering discussion. We would like to thank Fran for taking the time to visit our campus for the WiT event.

Keep updated on the Seidenberg socials and follow WiT to hear about future events!

 

Social Media: a talk with Matthew Knell

Matthew Knell, Tech Mentor-in-Residence and former Head of Social Media Care and Community Programs at Samsung, came to Pace University’s NYC campus for an open discussion on social media with students. The advisory board member and Seidenberg alumnus has twenty-plus years of experience in social strategy, customer experience, and community building. Students were engaged from start to finish—and not just because pizza was provided.

Matthew explained that he came to Seidenberg to share his “knowledge and experiences in a practical way… with the folks here who are learning how to be a professional and… [learning] new skills in the environment.”

Matthew opened the talk by explaining how to survive in the technology industry. His words of advice were wise and concise: “roll with the punches and…be willing to adapt yourself to the roles that exist.”

The discussion moved from current social media trends to the way media affects society, and lastly, to how it will continue to evolve in the future. Students engaged in open discussion and stayed after the event to ask more questions. Matthew explained that he hopes to offer up practical advice to those in attendance.

“As [students are] thinking about what they’re doing with their career and their life, I like to offer a few nuggets of [advice] to help them figure out what they want to do next” he stated.

While adding knowledge and names to your resume is important, gaining practical advice from an industry professional is priceless. Matthew took the time to steer students in the right direction, whether they were interested in social media or not. In an industry where connections and professionalism mean everything, it was a chance for students to understand just what it takes to be a leader.

Matthew noted that these discussions are important as they are a “good opportunity for anyone to grow and learn in their career.”

To wrap up his experience, Matthew noted, “[It was] a very engaging crowd. I think that it was really great to get a bunch of awesome questions. It… demonstrates the quality of the Seidenberg School and their students, and what they’re doing. It’s just fun to come back home and get to meet some new folks.”

We’re lucky to have such an involved alumnus who’s willing to reach out to the Seidenberg community. Make sure to attend future events to gain industry knowledge and much more!

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Become a Mentor

As a freshman, it’s nerve-wracking to explore the Seidenberg community, but there’s a way to help with those nerves. As an upperclassman, you have the opportunity to assist with a freshman student’s transition into the community through the NYC Peer Mentor Program! One of the best ways to get integrated into the Seidenberg community is through the Peer Mentor Program and upperclassmen have the opportunity to help out with that integration. The peer-to-peer communication between mentee and mentor creates a starting foundation for all students who join.

The program, run by Seidenberg advisors Matt Brown and Stephanie Elson, is a newer program at the Seidenberg School. They started it as a way to use the leadership skills of upperclassmen to lead incoming students to success.

Will McNeese, a senior Information Technology major, is one of these peer mentors! He joined the program to help others. Will took the time to talk about who the program is for as well as what being a mentor is all about.

“[The] program is a resource for new students who might need extra guidance in their transition to college,” he explains. “[The program] is also great for second years or higher who like helping people and want to help incoming freshmen with that first-semester anxiety.”

Over the course of the first semester, the freshman mentee and the upperclassman mentor pairs meet and compete in challenges. They also take the time to get to know one another and learn to check in with each other throughout the semester.

Will has gained a great deal from the program, but he explains that the joy of helping others and using his time to make someone else’s life easier are the best parts of being a mentor.

“I’m sure there are lots of students who [are] terrified of being in college and [have] a ton of questions and concerns without any clear place to ask them,” Will explains. “This program is a way for those same students to help make sure somebody else doesn’t go through that [anxiety] (or at least not as badly).”

As for why others should join the program, he notes that prizes can be won by those who complete challenges in the first semester. The prizes Will and his mentee won included a fifty-dollar gift card for Amazon last semester. All members of the program also receive a free t-shirt! According to Will, though, the best part isn’t about the prizes—it’s the networking.

“You…get to meet and connect with a lot of students, and there [are] a lot of industries—especially [within] the tech world—that are based on connections,” he explains.

All in all, the Peer Mentor program is perfect for all NYC Seidenberg students who wish to engage in the Seidenberg community and help others. If you would like to learn more about the program, stop by the information session on April 3rd at 12:15pm during common hour in the Seidenberg Lounge!

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My experience at JSConf Hawai’i and how I attended for free

Skimming through Twitter a few months ago a Tweet caught my eye: JSConf Hawai’i was being announced as the latest in the global JSConf series. It’d be happening in Honolulu, Hawai’i in early February, the call for papers (CFPs) had just been sent out, and they were offering diversity scholarships!

Within a couple of weeks, I had submitted a talk proposal and an application for their diversity scholarship. A few weeks after that, I got a reply. My talk hadn’t been selected but I had been awarded a diversity scholarship, which would cover the cost of my flight, hotel, and conference ticket. I was bummed my talk hadn’t been accepted but I was excited to go.

Months later, I found myself sitting in a room surrounded by fellow JavaScript developers getting the lowdown on the days ahead. I was thrilled to be at the conference for many reasons. The organizers made a noticeable effort to reach out to people from underrepresented groups in tech. The conference had an explicit Code of Conduct (COC). Plus ones were invited to some events. And we had the option to defer our swag and opt instead for a donation to be made to Aloha Lives Here charity.

During the opening remarks and via conference handouts the COC was brought up repeatedly and we were reminded to use inclusive language and remain mindful of those around you. This, coupled with great coffee and weather, meant the day started off on a high.

Things took a turn and I found myself on a conference rollercoaster. Speakers and MCs were using “guys” when referring to the audience and “crazy” when describing experiences. These are not inclusive words and can be triggering for some. I was taken aback when it wasn’t addressed, giving the impression the organizers didn’t care.

Along the left-rear wall was a projection of the conference logo on top of a backdrop that shifted constantly. Sitting near it was a mistake. The repeated flickering was distracting and anxiety-inducing.

Overall the talks I attended were great, but it was difficult to remain attentive towards the end of the day. It seemed like lighter topics were reserved for earlier time slots while talks that required more active thinking were held after lunch. Through side conversations and observation, I gathered that many were tuning out towards the afternoon. It didn’t help that there were no talk descriptions provided online or in handouts, which meant you didn’t really know what you were getting into when sitting down. This was not ideal and the first time I’ve encountered this at a talk-driven event.

Given the smaller size of the conference, I expected ample opportunities to speak with people about what they were working on and the tools they were using. Instead, I found myself wanting to run away because everyone else seemed to already know each other, huddled in large enclosed circles deep in conversation. Cue the imposter syndrome! I did end up chatting with a few people, but sadly all my interactions were quick and superficial.

The faltering on language usage and lack of thoughtful opportunities for people to interact (especially for those of us who are more introverted), affected my experience the most. Having run events and volunteered at many myself, some of these hiccups are notoriously difficult to get right—especially the first time around—while others require specific planning, foresight, and workflow for immediate action.

Conferences can be stressful and difficult at times. If you come in on the first day expecting every experience to be wonderful, you are in for a disappointment. However, the experience is valuable and worthy. At this event, I heard some exciting talks and got to interact with some awesome people. But most of all, I got to experience what it can be like to feel doubt and anxiety and I learned how to overcome those emotions and have a good time!

I loved the diversity in talk topics, speakers, and attendees. I thought the talks played well with each other and there was something to be taken away by people across different skill levels and backgrounds. While my conversations with people left much to be desired, everyone I interacted with was respectful and at no time did I feel unsafe. A total win there!

My top three talks were:

1. HI and AI, by Kyle Oba

Kyle discussed a project he worked on where facial recognition was used to match visitors at the Honolulu Museum with different art objects, whilst explaining the tech behind it in the process.

2. JavaScript is AsynchroWAT?, by Crystal Martin

Crystal talked about all things callbacks, promises, and async/await using female-relatable real life examples.

3. What Tamagotchis can teach you about ES6 generators, by Jenn Creighton

Jenn brought Tamagotchis to the browser and talked about optimization and state management using ES6 generators.

My favorite joke of the conference was from Kyle Oba when he uttered a slightly paraphrased version of: “…python, you know, executable pseudocode,” whilst discussing how it’s used almost exclusively in data science.

If you’d like to attend a conference and maybe even travel for free while improving your coding know-how, here are five conferences offering scholarships in 2019:

Want to speak at a conference? Get help crafting your first talk proposal for a conference or meet-up at an upcoming Global CFP Day. It’s free and held yearly.


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Melanie Madera is the Glue of the Seidenberg Community

Pace University alumna, Melanie Madera recently took on the new role of Community Manager of the Seidenberg community (aka, the glue of Seidenberg). Last year in May, Melanie began her new position at the Seidenberg School of Computer Science & Information Systems. Her journey from university student to community manager is full of hard work and determination!

She began her college journey at Pace University on the downtown New York City campus in 2002. As a commuter, she worked numerous part-time jobs in order to pay for her education, gaining experience at Nintendo as a Marketing/Sales Associate and at a non-profit assisting children in the foster care system. She went on to earn her BBA in Marketing with a concentration in Advertising and Promotions.

“I will always remember my time at Pace with fond memories,” Melanie notes. “I still get a pang of nostalgia whenever I walk the halls at One Pace Plaza. They were some of the best years of my life!”

Now, as the Community Manager at Seidenberg, Melanie has the opportunity to make the Pace experience better for new students. Asked what her role entails, she quips, “what doesn’t it?”

She handles all of Seidenberg’s New York City campus events and clubs, as well as managing the student assistants at the front desk. She also assists Dean Hill in organizing his schedule and calendar to improve his time management. Overall, she makes the Seidenberg community better by listening to and observing the dynamics of the office.

Melanie explains, “in general, I keep the office going, make sure the faculty is supported and, most importantly, I always make sure that we have coffee stocked in the kitchen. Gotta keep Seidenberg caffeinated!”

 

As for what she brings to the office—besides coffee and an overall sense of community—Melanie believes that she has brought both a sense of organization and transparency.

“My work experience here in the Seidenberg School has been one of the most productive and positive community environments that I have had the pleasure of being a part of,” she explains. “I have to say that the culture here at Seidenberg is unlike any other place I have worked at. I have experience in many work environments: start-ups, small businesses, non-profits, large corporations; but the sense of community and comradery here is really refreshing.”

While she notes marketing as her true passion, she is also “passionate about treating the [Seidenberg] space with respect and to value what [the community has], because [she] feels that it starts with one person; once people see how much care and time you take in making it a great place to work, they tend to follow suit.”

She uses the skills that she learned at Pace to better the community of Seidenberg. “When I have the opportunity to flex my creative muscle and take someone’s vision and make it a reality, it really is a wonderful feeling,” she admits.

As long as Melanie flexes her creative muscles as the Community Manager for Seidenberg, the lounge will always be a safe space for students and faculty. We’re thankful for all that she does for our community and cannot wait for all that she has in store for the future.

“I feel like I was destined to be a part of this team and it feels like I just fit right in; everyone accepted me and is thankful for my hard work and dedication,” Melanie notes. “Everyone here takes pride in their work and in helping students and it shows! I’m really proud to be here and definitely have Seidenberg pride!”

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The Design Factory is the hub of innovation for students at Seidenberg

Pace University’s Design Factory students are always working on global problems that need innovative solutions. The students are teamed up, then have the opportunity to brainstorm and use “design thinking” methodology to take an idea from the drawing board to a working prototype. These students aren’t just dreaming of being the next wave of innovators, they already are.

Laina Posner—a Pace University junior majoring in computer science—has been a summer intern at UPS, a Grace Hopper Conference attendee, and a Pace University Nexus Maximus team member. She is also a design factory student who had the opportunity to go to Helsinki, Finland in October at the Aalto University Design Factory.

“I’ve been working with [the Design Factory] for the past two years, because that’s when [it] officially launched,” Laina states.

Of the Design Factory process overall, she explains: “It’s a big collaboration between different schools all over the country and also the world, but then also different majors as well. So each time I was assigned a project with a different team and I was always given a different task, so it was a great opportunity to become experienced in lots of different things.”

Last semester, Laina had the chance to start working on the PdP team with a start-up company. When she traveled to Finland, she had the opportunity to hear about what her team would be doing for the rest of her junior year.

“When I met them in September, we got a demo, met the team, and met the company. When we go back in May, we will be able to present our product. We’ll be able to see [the process] from start to finish. I’m working on the application part of it where I’ll be designing software to improve the already existing product that they have. Our other teammates will be working on the prototype,” she explains. “Right now I’m assigned on a permanent project where I’ll be working over the year, I’ll be working with a team from Finland with also NYC students. Our project is to work to create a prototype for a company. Our company is Pexray Tech, and they’re looking for a new innovation.”

Pexray Tech is a company that builds portable X-ray systems. The company is looking for a new project, so Laina and the rest of the team are at the forefront of that. The team has completed the beginning stages of the project where planning, research, and getting acquainted with one another is essential.

“It was really cool to have a connection with people that I had really never met over a product for a company that I was just introduced to. We’ve been able to work together since we met for the project, and building connections with other people was really cool,” she states.

Over the past few months, Laina and the rest of the team focused on using “design thinking” to build a working prototype for Pexray Tech. Currently, the team has two months left to create a product for Pexray Tech.

“We are current prototyping our project and in the developmental phase,” Laina explains.

Over the next two months, the team will finalize their product and have the chance to present it to the company. It will be a showcase of their hard work and innovation on a real-world solution.

Now, Laina just wants others to know about the opportunities one can gain through the Design Factory experience. While some students have been working with the Design Factory team for years, they’re always looking to recruit more students. They want more innovators and dreamers who can create solutions to real-world problems with real clients.

“It was very selective, so a lot of people didn’t know about it,” Laina stated of the application process. “I think a lot of students after I told them about it are very interested in it. I wish more people knew about it and more people could experience it, too.  It is an amazing experience. Students are able to use their own personal knowledge of the field and implement their work into a project that they have worked on from start to finish.”

We’re hoping to get the word out about  Pace University’s Design Factory and to get more students aware of this opportunity to innovate! If you’re interested in applying to be a design factory student, sign up for the mailing list!

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