January 31, 2020

My Journey in Information Science, Systems and Technology: A Filipino-American Woman’s Perspective

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Portrait of the author as part of Women in Computing at Cornell's Fall 2019 Diversity Photo Campaign; the sign reads "Because over 90% of LGBTQ tech employees surveyed reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination at work."

I am holding a paper sign that says, “Because over 90% of LGBTQ tech employees surveyed reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination at work,” inside the intersection of Duffield Hall, where Women in Computing at Cornell (WICC) took a picture for their Fall 2019 Diversity Photo Campaign, #ILookLikeAnEngineer.

Discovering my passion in Computer Science & Information Science

In Fall 2017, I took CS 1110 with Professor Walker White and became more interested in CS. Before Professor White started his lectures, I looked around to find my kababayans, or my fellow Filipinos, without much luck. I was also too shy to initiate a conversation with a classmate near me, so I did not know many of my classmates, which made me feel lonely. Though I tried to pay attention to his lectures, I wondered where the Filipinos were sitting so that I could start a conversation with them after class. Unfortunately, I had to rush to get to my next class, so I did not even have the time to say hello to anyone afterwards. As a sophomore that recently became passionate about technology, I felt like I didn’t belong in the Computer Science, Information Science, and Statistics and Data Science (CIS) community because there wasn’t anyone to my knowledge who shares my cultural identity. 

I then joined Women in Computing at Cornell (WICC) to connect with other women in computing fields. Through WICC’s photo campaigns and G-Body meetings, I connected with other members in computing who shared similar cultural backgrounds. Fortunately, I met one Filipino-American woman in WICC who understood my experiences. We instantly bonded over missing Filipino food like adobo, taho and sisig, as well as being women in CIS. Unfortunately, there were few Filipinos in CIS that I knew of and it felt isolating not seeing people like me.

Future of Learning Lab Research Experience

After sophomore year, I hoped to apply my programming skills from my courses into a fulfilling summer research experience. As an undergraduate research assistant, I could explore career interests and develop skills related to data science. Research is also an excellent way to implement my knowledge from classes into an academia setting and allows me to learn how to work independently on complex assignments that I am not initially confident on how to start.

Last summer, I researched at Future of Learning Learning Lab, where researchers were developing a game to teach CS concepts to disadvantaged, young students. I worked independently because my research partner was designing the levels of the game while I was conducting behavioral analysis on the game with clickstream data.

I was allowed to research in any place that I felt comfortable, so I chose to work in Gates Hall most days. On Wednesday afternoons, I had lab meetings with my principal investigators and research partner to discuss what we had accomplished each week. Though it was intimidating sharing my progress to four older and white male professors, I became more outspoken and shared my experiences being a Filipino-American woman in computing to everyone.

From this research experience, I developed vital skills in data science. This experience was invaluable and confirmed my choice of pursuing data science as a career. 

Social Dynamics Lab Research Experience

After my summer research experience at the Future of Learning Lab, I then decided to switch to the Social Dynamics Lab to work on the mental health analytics project. I love that I can implement knowledge and experiences from helping people with a wide range of challenges like someone dealing with depression to someone who was about to harm themselves at the Crisis Text Line into interdisciplinary research. Furthermore, my PhD student’s research allows me to further develop my knowledge in mental health, especially in mental health conditions like schizoaffective disorder, as well as quickly pick up new areas like natural language processing. Also, I learned how to work in JupyterLab in Python’s pytorch environment, which was new for me. 

Though I am continuing my research this semester at the Social Dynamics Lab, I learned lots of new tools, concepts, and how to work with another person remotely last semester. 

Kumusta, kababayan! Kumusta na?

Hello, fellow Filipino! How are you? 

Recently, I met with WICC’s Co-Presidents to discuss my concerns and suggestions. Towards the end, one of the WICC Co-Presidents attempted to converse with me in Tagalog. Up until then, I did not know that she was Filipina. I was shocked that one of the WICC Co-Presidents can speak some Tagalog too. Though the conversation in Tagalog did not pan out as smoothly as planned, I felt delighted that I met another kababayan in real life who is actively involved in the CIS community.  Afterwards, I mentioned that my mother speaks Ilocano as her native language while my father speaks Bisaya as his mother tongue. One of the WICC Co-Presidents immediately remarked that my dad was from the Visayas. I nodded up and down and I replied that he grew up in Maasin, which is in the Visayas. Though our Tagalog is rudimentary, I hope that we can have a coherent and ongoing conversation in Tagalog someday. Maraming salamat. Thank you very much.

Although I go about most days at Cornell without seeing a Filipino, it is delightful to meet kababayans from initiating a conversation with a WICC member at the Holland International Living Center in the fall semester of sophomore year to finding out this semester that one of the WICC co-presidents is Filipina. Due to WICC and research experiences, I wholeheartedly embrace my major: Information Science, Systems, and Technology  and being Filipino-American in CIS.