Newest Knight of St. Patrick Motivated to Make Engineering and CS More Inclusive

3/23/2021 1:31:30 PM Laura Schmitt, Illinois CS

A standout soccer defender in high school, Tommy Carver was recruited to play collegiate soccer on the West Coast for a Division III school. On a visit to the Urbana-Champaign campus, though, he fell in love with Illinois engineering and set aside his athletic career. The Stamford, Connecticut, resident became an Illini and chose CS as his major after taking Introduction to Computer Science in the fall of 2018.

In April, Carver will be among the 12 Grainger Engineering students inducted as Knights of St. Patrick, a distinction that recognizes leadership, excellence in character, and exceptional contributions to the college and its students.

Tommy Carver
CS junior Tommy Carver will be inducted as a Knight of St. Patrick in April. 

A junior, Carver has been on a mission to increase the community and opportunities for those with little programming experience, while also encouraging more male allies for gender minorities in STEM. 

“I’ve been trying to make the college and CS department more welcoming and inclusive for all kinds of people,” said Carver. “Receiving this award as a junior inspires me to do more work on campus. I’m very proud to have come to Illinois not knowing anyone or even much about CS and making it this far.”

Working with the Society of Women in Engineers (SWE), Carver was a founding executive member of  HeforSWE, which aims to encourage more male allies who can help women achieve equality in engineering education and careers.

According to Carver, the group has monthly Info Chats on gender topics and invites industry representatives to speak to the students on such topics. Recently, Google employees presented their company’s diversity and equity plans to the group.

As president of Theta Tau, a professional co-ed engineering fraternity, Carver has helped redesign the rush process so it is more welcoming for everyone. He created audits of the organization’s activities to ensure they were as inclusive as possible. He also created a diversity chair position so the group would have a fresh perspective on the issue.

“I’m particularly proud of how we adapted to going all on-line last spring,” Carver said, especially since the fraternity had its largest rush with more than 220 students expressing an interest in joining. “We can only admit 20 members each semester, but we were able to adapt to the changes well.”

 Drawing on his own experience as a freshman with no programming experience, Carver co-founded Project Code in the spring semester of his freshman year. This registered student organization (RSO) is open to all Illinois students and currently has about 100 members, including a dedicated group of mentors with programming experience who help CS majors and non-majors learn to code.

“It was hard to get involved with groups on campus without prior coding experience, so me and a couple of friends founded this organization,” said Carver, who served as president for more than a year. “We wanted to tear down the barriers that prevented people from pursuing CS as a major or minor.”

Carver has further influenced the experience of CS students through his membership in the CS Student Leadership Council. He played a key role in organizing the department’s February 2020 Celebrate CS event, which brought alumni and students together for networking and community.

“I’d like to thank all the people that helped me get to this point,” Carver said. “My family, friends, and all my peers in the RSOs have pushed me to achieve things that I didn’t know I could do.”