Klara Nahrstedt gives back to CS community as NSF CISE Advisory Committee Co-chair

1/30/2024 Bruce Adams

Written by Bruce Adams

Illinois Computer Science professor Klara Nahrstedt is interested in “giving back to the community and assisting an organization that funds 85% of computer science research.”

This is why she is beginning to serve as the co-chair of the National Science Foundation Computer and Information Science and Engineering Advisory Committee (CISE AC), having joined the committee in 2019.

Klara Nahrstedt

The CISE AC advises the NSF on research, education, and infrastructure support to facilitate policy deliberations, program development, and program management and identify opportunities within the NSF Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE). The committee prepares reports for the directorate, making the CISE AC and its subcommittees “very important as a feedback device" to the Assistant Director Margaret Martonosi “and the division directors and program directors,” Nahrstedt said. She noted, “I really enjoy that every subcommittee comes together, collects material, organizes workshops or some other meetings from the community, and then writes a report to provide feedback to CISE and show the community how an issue might be addressed in CISE.”

The CISE AC is working on three broad areas at the committee and subcommittee levels this upcoming year. The first area is the institutional diversity; as Nahrstedt said, “to analyze how small, big, private, public institutions are served by CISE”.

The second and related area is the need to widen and grow participation in computer science. The NSF CISE Directorate is reviewed by a Board of Visitors every five years to examine the widening participation in computer science. As Nahrstedt confirmed, “The Board of Visitors is looking at Computer Science departments across the nation and evaluating how CISE Directorate  is doing in terms of funding both critical research areas and core research areas, funding of our junior faculty and senior faculty and enabling their participation in other funding programs.”

Examining the second area more closely, Nahrstedt said, “As we also know,  college enrollments’ decrease is coming up in 2026. Companies, national laboratories, and the government need a highly qualified workforce in computer science. Hence, widening participation in computer science is a major challenge, and the American workforce in computing needs to increase. This major increase in the computing workforce must come from MSI (Minority Serving Institutions) universities. This need for an increased computing workforce is now discussed in a CISE AC subcommittee with the aim of providing suggestions and feedback on what NSF can do to increase the American workforce. Suggestions are discussed, such as the elevation of some of the MSI universities to R1 universities to equip them with additional resources to provide strong educational programs and appropriate resources for advanced research capabilities.”

The final area of emphasis is sustainability, an area that Nahrstedt has focused on with her colleagues in one of the CISE AC subcommittees. “We are organizing an NSF-funded workshop on ‘Sustainable Computing for Sustainability’ on April 16-17, 2024, in Alexandria, Virginia, to bring together two groups. One group is the computer science community that cares about sustainable computing, energy, carbon-emission, and e-waste of computing ecosystems. The second group represents communities that use computing ecosystems for sustainable solutions (computing for sustainability) in climate, agriculture, manufacturing, and other societal domains.

Nahrstedt confirmed that, “the CISE leadership then considers the advice and feedback from CISE AC and may lead to creating either a new funding program within the CISE Directorate, a special program within NSF, or a partnership with other directorates, agencies, and companies, or adding this particular topic area to existing programs.”

All this work takes a significant portion of Nahrstedt's time. The CISE AC committee meets twice yearly in Alexandria, Virginia, which requires preparation time, travel, and attendance. Nahrstedt said, “As part of the preparation for each CISE AC meeting, AC members are asked to read ahead certain documents provided by either the NSF and CISE leadership, AC subcommittees, other agencies, or other organizations, and related to emerging issues to be discussed at the upcoming AC meeting. As the co-chair, there is more to do before these meetings, such as strategic meetings with the CISE leadership, discussing emerging issues in the directorate and the computer science community, and developing the agenda for the next CISE AC meeting.” This time and effort are what Nahrstedt called “giving back to the community. The Computer Science community and the NSF CISE organization have been very supportive throughout my professional career.  I'm happy to give back.”

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This story was published January 30, 2024.