Williams Continues Efforts to Impact Inclusivity of Computing and Engineering Education

11/14/2021 12:09:36 PM Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

There is a compelling reason, amidst a comprehensive effort, as to why Illinois CS professor Tiffani L. Williams recently accepted a new position as a Dean’s Fellow in Inclusion, Belonging, and Engagement with The Grainger College of Engineering.

As an Illinois CS Teaching Professor and Director of Onramp Program, Tiffani L. Williams oversees the iCAN program. Her goal is to broaden participation in computing through the belief that anyone can learn computer science, regardless of background.
Illinois CS Teaching Professor and Director of Onramp Programs, Tiffani L. Williams, recently accepted a new position in addition to her current responsibilities. Williams began as a Dean's Fellow in Inclusion, Belonging, and Engagement with The Grainger College of Engineering.

A little more than a month ago, Williams took this opportunity to continue her efforts toward making a critical impact in the accessibility of computing and engineering education. Even though there is much work to do, Williams believes she can build a bridge to a better, more inclusive future at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

“This position with Grainger Engineering is one way in which we have recognized there is a serious issue,” Williams said. “Considering we are a public institution that's supposed to serve all residents in the state of Illinois, we have a lot to get right. But if we get it right, the impact is unimaginable.

“Our history in innovation here at Illinois has already cemented our reputation in the United States and around the world. Because of that, it will be hard for anyone to ignore progress if we succeed in making our university, The Grainger College of Engineering and computing more accessible.”

To embark upon what might seem like an immense opportunity in change, Williams’ work in this role takes root with two primary initiatives.

First, she will help Grainger Engineering scale the CS CARES Committee. This resource consists of members of the computing community here at Illinois CS who are approachable and willing to listen. Their goal is to help people concerned about or who experience a potential violation of the department’s Values and Code of Conduct.

Second, as noted in Grainger Engineering’s announcement of this position, Williams will “expand our college’s interaction and engagement in Chicago with efforts focused on expansion of our computing ecosystem in the city and our partnership with Discovery Partners Institute (DPI).”

“I’m glad to be a part of these amazing projects from the ground level,” Williams said. “This effort gives us a chance to have stronger networking and collaborative opportunities through the exchange of students and curriculum ideas. This provides a whole new space to develop in the coming months and years.”

As for how to complete this work, Williams understands that it’s tough to forecast such a concept.

Her confidence grows, however, from a combination of factors. This includes the leadership within Grainger Engineering and Illinois CS. It extends to a few significant strides in the right direction toward inclusivity.

“I can’t explain well enough just how engaged and effective our Department Head, Nancy M. Amato, has been, as well as Dean Rashid Bashir from Grainger Engineering,” Williams said. “A major step forward was the development of the Institute for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) under Lynford Goddard. Shortly after the tragic death of George Floyd in 2020, IDEA also introduced the Anti-Racism Taskforce, which was chaired by Grainger Distinguished Chair in Engineering and Illinois CS professor Tandy Warnow.”

Meanwhile, Williams will continue her CS teaching duties, as well as leading and growing the Illinois Computing Accelerator for Non-Specialists (iCAN).

This new program just began working with its second cohort of students, all of whom have a bachelor’s degree in a field other than computer science. They looked to computing as a new opportunity in a thriving industry that impacts all areas of our lives.

“iCAN started two years ago, because of the leadership of Illinois CS and our faculty support,” Williams said. “By starting this program the right way – from curriculum formation, the admission process and engagement – we have been able to serve a population of students that needs to be served.

“I hope to continue helping Illinois support new opportunities for those who need it.”