Spelman STEM Center Fosters Research Partnerships to Advance Women in STEM

December 2020
Topics: MITRE Labs, Inclusion, Collaborations, Leadership, Education and Training, Partnerships
Mutually beneficial relationships with strong academic institutions are key to expanding opportunities for underrepresented populations. MITRE is expanding our relationship with Spelman College and building on our commitment to HBCUs.
Woman engineer working in a lab

Developing research opportunities for the next generation of female scientists is Cynthia Small’s latest project. And she recently reached her newest milestone when she joined the Spelman College Center of Excellence for Minority Women in STEM (COE-MWS) leadership advisory board.

"This is a real opportunity, not only to bring Spelman in as a research and academic partner, but also to bring them into our network of projects and sponsors," says Small, a department head who specializes in data analytics.

The Center, established by a $2 million grant from the Department of Defense (DoD) to support continued growth in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and increase diversity among underrepresented groups, will offer students and faculty research support, academic enrichment, and professional development through mentorship opportunities.

Spelman was selected to run the COE-MWS because of its strong record of innovation and educating women in STEM. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have a legacy of STEM education. Yet there remains a lack of representation among women of color in STEM-related careers.

Small, who has been with MITRE since 1997 and holds a Ph.D. in information technology from George Mason University, says the Center prioritizes partnering with organizations that have an authentic focus on diversity and equity.

"As advisers, we really want to keep our focus on helping Spelman develop future scientists and engineers. We want to see representation in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence [AI] and data science," Small says.

Other organizations on the advisory board include the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Facebook, IBM, Google, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Innovation Demands Inclusion

MITRE is committed to inclusion and diversity and realizes the impact that inclusion has in unifying teams and creating innovative solutions for our sponsors and partners.

"To find the best talent, we are using a differentiated approach to recruitment activities that leverages our competitive advantages," says Nicole Gilmore, director of MITRE’s student programs.

"We are focused on broadening our talent by engaging with highly-skilled and qualified professionals from a diverse talent pool. That talent can be found at Spelman and other HBCUs."

"There's already an exchange of ideas happening at Spelman among student and faculty groups. They're already collaborating to solve tough problems that are presented to them or that they identify. Similarly, our teams work together to discover new possibilities and create unexpected opportunities. Our mutual goals are ripe for partnership and sharing ideas."

The opportunity to work with the Center for Excellence leverages our unique vantage point and strengthens our broader initiative around academic engagement and collaboration with HBCUs.

Gilmore says Spelman is a strong academic partner, and it’s important that we understand the Center’s research capabilities to successfully develop that partnership.

"Providing opportunities for students and early career talent to apply their skills on a problem for one of our sponsors—or a project that crosses multiple sponsors—gives them the opportunity to see their skills at work in real time on problems that are bigger than the bottom line," Gilmore says.

“Because we manage several federally funded research and development centers, we can offer a broader problem set they might not get elsewhere.”

Representation in Emerging Technologies

With the grant established for the Center of Excellence, Spelman will also introduce an annual Women in STEM Speaker Series, designed to increase knowledge among faculty, staff, and students about emerging areas including artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data science. 

The Center also will encourage year-round research collaboration among faculty, students, and DoD personnel.

Small sees MITRE Labs, which includes more than 3,700 technical professionals across a range of disciplines, as a potential partner and an important part of the Center of Excellence’s mission to give minority women more exposure in AI and other emerging technologies.

"I do believe that MITRE Labs can play a critical role in helping the Center for Excellence achieve some of its goals by extending opportunities in labs, on project teams, and in emerging technologies like AI and data science. I also think that’s where Spelman can really help MITRE increase inclusion for women and people of color," Small says.

"If we increase avenues for minority women in STEM, MITRE and other organizations will have a more diverse pool of candidates to choose from, and women of color will have more choices too. Inclusion, to me, is also about choice."

—by Aishia Caryn Freeman


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