Trick or Research Event Broke Down Barriers to Undergraduates in Research

12/14/2021 Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

Illinois CS PhD student and Broadening Participation in Computing Fellow, Kathleen Isenegger, helped design an event intended to spark interest in research – especially for those underrepresented in computing.

Written by Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

There is a moment that PhD student Kathleen Isenegger occassionally witnesses that speaks to exactly why she is involved with the Illinois CS initiative, Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC).

That moment is when a younger student comes upon the realization that a specific research project in computer science matters to them. What happens next is powerful. They realize that no matter who they are, or what their background is, their inspiration matters. Research can be a place to solve problems. It can offer insights into why they love computing. And it might just solidify, in their own minds, why they want to make a future out of the tech world.

A goal behind BPC is to open the minds of as many students as possible to this thought process. A recent event, Trick or Research, became one more important part in this effort.

A group of people - including Department Head Nancy M. Amato, the BPC Fellows, and students from CS STARS - all guided the Trick or Research event to a successful conclusion in November.
A group of people - including Department Head Nancy M. Amato, the BPC Fellows, and students from CS STARS - all guided the Trick or Research event to a successful conclusion in November.

“Talking to students at the event, I heard that many of them were learning that research was something they could realistically become involved in,” Isenegger said. “That makes me so happy. Hearing the excitement in someone’s voice – especially if they are someone from a group underrepresented in computing – as they describe a research project they found out about, and that they think is really cool, is the greatest feeling.

“All it seems to take is getting the right research paper in the right person’s hands in order to ignite that spark, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to expand that exposure.”

Taking place on November 3, Trick or Research drew roughly 200 undergraduate students.

This included in-person visits to Illinois CS research labs at the Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science. If the students chose to seek information through the event virtually, they could join a Zoom call and watch a series of videos from Illinois CS faculty explaining their research focus and highlights.

Logistically, Isenegger worked with her fellow BPC Fellows – Max Fowler and Sara Aghajanzadeh – to secure the physical space and equipment needed for the event. Illinois CS Department Head, Nancy M. Amato, worked with faculty who provided the videos and hosted tables at the event.

Trick or Research also incorporated assistance from the Illinois CS Student Ambassador/Research Scholars (CS STARS). This is a group of undergraduate students interested in pursuing undergraduate research in a chosen area while also serving as departmental leaders to recruit women to the CS majors and empower women CS undergraduates.

The CS STARS first worked on promotional materials. They also helped with execution of the event by producing information to participants at the check-in table, interacting with research lab representatives to encourage discussion, and by moderating the Zoom breakout rooms for virtual attendees.

“Everyone involved provided such amazing effort to the success of the Trick or Research event,” Isenegger said. “The impact I hope will occur from it is that more undergraduate students from groups underrepresented in computing will become involved with research here.

“I am hopeful that this will be achieved through the excellent turnout we had at the event, the in-depth discussions I witnessed there, and the incredible faculty engagement both at the event and through the research highlight video submissions.”

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This story was published December 14, 2021.