Marie desJardins argues that ultra competitive hackathon culture may discourage women from pursuing careers in cybersecurity

desJardins, Marie (CSEE)There is a high demand for fresh talent in information security, but the industry has struggled to hire and retain professionals from an essential portion of their potential talent pool: women. Just 10 percent of people working in information security are women, and in a new Slate article UMBC’s Marie desJardins suggests the emphasis that recruiters and people in the industry place on competitive extracurricular activities, such as hackathons, may be dampening women’s interest in the field.

Activities such as hackathons—events where coders compete to build a new product or service, working continuously over a set period of hours or days—offer participants the chance to network with corporate recruiters, present their creations to industry experts, and even land internship offers. However, desJardins points out, “The way we train our girls, we don’t necessarily raise them to be competitive against other people.” This can leave girls at a disadvantage when recruiters expect them to have experience in highly competitive extracurricular activities, even more than demonstrating strong grades in challenging coursework.

To increase the number of women who choose careers in information security and cybersecurity, desJardins suggests emphasizing how the creations developed at events like hackathons can impact society, and creating more opportunities for students in these fields to demonstrate their skills and talent in ways that recruiters value.

“It’s not that girls don’t like these things, but it’s one kind of thing. It’s one way of testing out scientific ideas and comparing them against other people,” desJardins notes.

Read the full article, “Hackathons Have a Gender Problem,” on Slate.

Lee Blaney explains how technology can transform pollutants in chicken manure into a valuable product

Lee_Blaney_headshotWhile manure is often used as fertilizer for crops, regulations designed to protect the environment do not allow farmers to use untreated manure on fields that already saturated with elements like phosphorus. Lee Blaney, assistant professor in the department of chemical, biochemical and environmental engineering, is developing new technologies in his lab to remove phosphorus from agricultural waste, such as chicken litter, to transform it into two highly valuable products: processed animal litter that can be used as fertilizer and chemicals that can be sold to farmers with land that is deficient in rather than saturated with particular nutrients.

Blaney explains in a new Voice of America video that he sees this challenge as an opportunity to turn agricultural waste into a product that is profitable, and does not pollute the environment. His thought process is to ask “What’s in there? Can we extract it and turn it around into a valuable product?”

VOA video_Lee BlaneyFor updates on the work of the Blaney Lab, see their website and Twitter.

UMBC partnership inspires new CSEE advising website

Shawn Lupoli_classComputer Science and Electrical Engineering (CSEE) is piloting a new advising website, supporting students in computer engineering, computer science, chemical engineering, and mechanical engineering. The new site was developed by students through the spring 2015 course “Principles of Programming Languages,” taught by CSEE lecturer Shawn Lupoli.

Searching for a real-world project to focus on, the students identified a need to update the CSEE department’s advising sign-up process. Lupoli oversaw the development of the project and coordinated the implementation of the new advising sign-up system. Joe Popoloski of Next Century, a technology development company in Baltimore, provided feedback throughout the course on the development of the tool, and the site was recently tested by a group of freshmen and sophomore students, who offered feedback on the user experience. UMBC students Jeanice Hwang ‘15, biological studies, and Jeremy Suon ‘17, computer science, developed the application model that is being used during the fall 2015 semester.

Cathy Bielawski, director, undergraduate student services, provided support and guidance to the students, many of whom had not previously programmed web-based applications or used databases in other computer science classes. The project allowed students to get useful HTML coding experience, and to benefit from the results of their work. More than 200 students signed up for advising during the first week of the site pilot.

Lupoli shares that in addition to gaining familiarity with “different programming paradigms” and employing programming languages in a project-based setting, students also benefit from the opportunity to learn how to work collaboratively in a group.

CSEE has a history of exciting collaborations with Next Century. The company previously supported a UMBC course that enabled students learn the fundamentals of software engineering through developing a student alert system. The students in that software engineering course presented their work to clients in an industry setting.

To explore a collaboration opportunity with “Principles of Programming Languages” or to learn more about this course and the advising system, email Shawn Lupoli at To learn more about broader opportunities for companies to partner with faculty and departments to provide enriching, real-world learning opportunities for students, contact Allison Jones, associate director of corporate relations at

Govind Rao discusses portable bioreactors developed to save lives on battlefields

Govind Rao_headshotSoldiers on the battlefield and first-responders in conflict zones will soon be able to save lives by using a portable, briefcase-sized tool that rapidly manufactures medicines. Govind Rao, professor of chemical and biochemical engineering and director of the Center for Advanced Sensor Technology (CAST) at UMBC, leads the research team behind this innovation. At the recent Bioprocess International conference, he called the system “beyond revolutionary,” reports BioPharma.

“Welcome to the Betty Crocker world of bioprocessing,” said Rao. “Within a few hours you are expressing a high quality protein.”

The product emerged from concerns that current methods for getting pharmaceutical supplies to battlefields, often requiring airdrops, needed to be replaced with point-of-care technology. The project is a collaborative effort among multiple academic institutions and corporations, and was funded by a $7.9 million grant from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. In the future, Rao hopes this technology can be applied to producing low-cost vaccines.

Read the full article, “‘Beyond revolutionary’: bioreactor-in-a-briefcase brings warzone production,” on BioPharma.

Marie desJardins discusses underrepresentation of women in artificial intelligence research

Marie_DesJardins_headshotIn 2011, just 18% of undergraduate computer science degrees were received by women, according to data from the National Center for Education. In 1985, less than 30 years earlier, women received 37% of computer science degrees. This lack of diversity is particularly evident in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), UMBC’s Marie desJardins points out in Quartz.

desJardins is associate dean in UMBC’s College of Engineering and Information Technology and a professor of computer science. She argues that outdated gender stereotypes in science are rooted in a lack of diverse perspectives contributing to scientific research, and the gender imbalance among AI researchers had led to a narrowing of that field over time.

In computer science, women are more likely to be interested in work that benefits communities and improves people’s lives, desJardins suggests, while men articulate greater interest in questions about algorithms and mathematics. With a longstanding gender imbalance in IA, she notes, “Research has become very narrowly focused on solving technical problems and not on the big questions.” desJardins told Quartz that she has noticed this shift first-hand over the course of her career.

Read the full article, “Inside the surprisingly sexist world of artificial intelligence,” on Quartz.

Ant Ozok explains challenges banks face in using social media to connect with customers

Ant Ozok_photoAs more banks use social media platforms, they are encouraging consumers to view social media as a way to access resources and to have their questions answered quickly. Banks and retailers alike use social media to connect with consumers. However, they use it in different ways and have varying degrees of success, says Ant Ozok, associate professor of information systems, in The Daily Record.

Ozok notes that mortgage services and credit cards are difficult to effectively promote on social media due to their complexity, including the regulations surrounding them. Consumers are also more likely to have a negative reaction to targeted ads on social media platforms from a bank compared with a clothing store, for example, says Ozok.

For now, he argues, “Unlike retailers, banks have not found a way to crack social media in a useful, meaningful and profitable way.”

Marie desJardins explains what’s needed to bring computer science to K-12 nationwide

Marie_DesJardins_headshotSince 2007, student enrollment in computer science (CS) at the university level has increased by about 120%. However, despite this level of interest, there are major gaps in CS education that result in fewer girls and students from underrepresented minority groups entering the field, argues Marie desJardins, associate dean in UMBC’s College of Engineering and Information Technology and professor of computer science, in The Conversation.

desJardins has worked to improve CS education at the K-12, undergraduate and graduate levels. She particularly sees boosting the availability of K-12 CS education, and the skills of teachers teaching CS at that level, as necessary to engage more diverse students in the field. While these students have great potential, she writes, they often “do not have the preparation or encouragement to succeed in college-level work.”

In her article, desJardins notes that New York City recently announced a plan to invest $81 million to establish CS instruction in every public school by 2025. Other cities, including Chicago and San Francisco, have dedicated funding to bolster CS instruction in public schools.

As the demand for CS classes has increased, teachers with little CS in their background have been asked to teach these courses. desJardins emphasizes a need for consistent standards across states to attract and retain highly qualified CS teachers.

Read desJardins full article, “Explainer: what it will take to make computer science education available in all schools,” on The Conversation and also now in Fortune magazine.