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News Release, University of Maryland

COLLEGE PARK, Md.–The University of Maryland (UMD) announced today the creation of the Iribe Initiative for Inclusion and Diversity in Computing. With a $1 million gift from Brendan Iribe (ee-REEB’), UMD alumnus and co-founder of the virtual reality company Oculus, the Initiative aims to increase diversity and foster a stronger environment of inclusion in the university’s Department of Computer Science.

The new funding will support the following programs for UMD students: tutoring for required introductory computer science classes, computing-related student organization activities, a computer science inclusion speaker seminar series and funding to attend computing conferences. The Initiative will also support after-school programs and summer camps for elementary through high school students from all backgrounds.

The Initiative will expand on the successes of the Maryland Center for Women in Computing (MCWIC)—which has provided a variety of opportunities for female students at UMD and local K-12 schools to engage in computing activities since 2014—by offering programs for students of all backgrounds. 

“I’ve been very impressed by the work Jan Plane and the center have been doing to build the pipeline for women and underrepresented groups to enter computing fields,” Iribe said. “Increasing diversity and creating a culture of inclusion in the tech industry is important to me, and I know Jan and her team will use this new funding to make an even bigger impact at Maryland.”

In 2017-18, MCWIC supported over 1,400 K-12 students and nearly 250 UMD students through its programs. Following the launch of the Initiative, MCWIC will continue to provide specific programming for women and strengthen its current partnerships with national organizations, including the National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT) and the Building Recruiting And Inclusion for Diversity (BRAID) initiative.

“We are extremely grateful for Brendan’s generosity,” said the Initiative’s director Jandelyn Plane, a principal lecturer in the Department of Computer Science who currently directs MCWIC. “It’s very motivating to have someone who shares our vision and dedication to creating an inclusive environment for everyone interested in computing.”

Photo: Jan Plane with CompSci Connect students. Credit: John T. Consoli/University of Maryland.

The new Initiative will serve as an umbrella over MCWIC and will be guided by the Department of Computer Science’s Inclusion and Diversity Committee and a new student advisory board, which will be created this spring. In addition, the department; the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies(UMIACS); and the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS) will continue to provide support.  

“We are grateful that Brendan Iribe has chosen the University of Maryland to launch his diversity and inclusion initiative,” said Mary Ann Rankin, UMD’s Senior Vice President and Provost. “His goal to increase diversity in computer science aligns perfectly with the university’s own commitment to diversity and inclusion. His gift will not only provide additional resources to our Department of Computer Science so that they can engage with underrepresented groups in this field, but his generosity will continue to impact the academic experience for all of our students.”

The Department of Computer Science, which ranks 10th in the nation according to Computer Science Rankings (csrankings.org), boasts one of the largest computer science programs in the country and the most popular undergraduate major on campus.

Thanks to the efforts of Plane and MCWIC, the number of female undergraduates in the department more than doubled over the last five years. Over 650 women are currently pursuing undergraduate degrees in computer science, making it one of the largest female computer science populations in the country. The number of underrepresented minorities in the major also increased by 50 percent during the last five years.

“With Brendan’s new gift, we will be able to continue building undergraduate and graduate education and research programs accessible to all and providing an unbeatable foundation for our future educators, scientists, technologists, and entrepreneurs just like Brendan,” said Ming Lin, chair of the Department of Computer Science and holder of the Elizabeth Stevinson Iribe Chair of Computer Science. “We will also be able to better resource our inclusion speaker series, which began this year and aims to to expose our students to a wide variety of research topics from leaders in the field who represent all forms of diversity.” 

Iribe’s latest gift to UMD adds to a $500,000 donation in 2017 to MCWIC, a $1 million donation in 2014 to establish the Brendan Iribe Scholarship in Computer Science, and a donation to the Andrew Reisse Memorial Scholarship in Computer Science, which was established in memory of Iribe’s friend and colleague who graduated from UMD in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and mathematics.

In 2014, Iribe also made a $30 million donation to fund construction of the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Engineering, which will be dedicated in April. Located at the corner of Baltimore Avenue and Campus Drive, the 215,000-square-foot-facility houses the Department of Computer Science and UMIACS. The building includes office and program space for the Iribe Initiative for Inclusion and Diversity in Computing and MCWIC, as well as six collaborative classrooms with interactive technologies and flexible seating for collaborative group work and experiential courses, 13 spacious research labs, and two seminar rooms for in-depth coverage of special topics and creative projects in multidisciplinary computing fields.

The Brendan Iribe Center’s open floor plans and common spaces filled with natural light are designed to maximize opportunities for collaboration. Informal study-break areas on every floor give students, makers and entrepreneurs space to recalibrate and engage colleagues. The ground-level, 300-seat Antonov Auditorium brings innovation out of the labs and into the public imagination through a wide range of conferences, hackathons, and lectures. In the Brendan Iribe Center’s 5,300-square-foot makerspace, students will use state-of-the-art equipment and their imaginations to create new hardware and software. The Andrew Reisse Rooftop Park offers a place to relax along with breathtaking views of UMD’s campus and downtown College Park. 

Also in the Brendan Iribe Center, UMIACS researchers will continue their efforts to solve significant scientific and societal challenges using a team-based, interdisciplinary approach. They are pursuing research in areas such as machine learning, robotics, bioinformatics and computational biology, quantum information, cybersecurity, virtual and augmented reality, health-related informatics and bioimaging, and data science. 

“Thanks to the support Brendan Iribe has provided to the University of Maryland over the past five years, we have the resources to build the pipeline and educate a more diverse group of computer scientists and conduct high-impact computing research in a new state-of-the-art building,” said CMNS Dean Amitabh Varshney.

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...