SCI Announces Teaching and Mentoring Small Grants Program

In an effort to enhance curriculum and student experience across the School of Computing and Information’s academic departments, SCI excitedly announces the first group of awards from the School’s Teaching and Mentoring Small Grants Program. Throughout the upcoming year, teams from across the School will collaborate specifically within the context of ethics, equity and diversity, and mentoring with the support of the program.

Even though the timeline for the grant only spans one academic year, Adam Lee, SCI associate dean for academic programs, hopes the momentum behind the grants will set forth programs that can evolve for years to come.

“We could provide relatively small starter resources to get people talking about ideas that might snowball into larger efforts, larger collaborations or form teams that can pursue seed grants or other things from the University, or external funding to help develop initiatives within the school,” Lee says. “That was the goal, to help tease out the good ideas and get people talking.”

Lee says four proposals will receive grants, including a project spearheaded by Malihe Alikhani and Yu-Ru Lin. They each taught similar special topics courses in the Spring 2021 semester that spanned two separate academic levels. Despite their different niches within the school, the grant has brought them together to advance their shared interest — establishing a culture of ethics in artificial intelligence and machine learning instruction.

Alikhani says she, Lin, and the rest of the team look forward to organizing machine learning and artificial intelligence teaching material to make it publicly available on a website. Lin and Alikhani also plan to host teaching workshops with instructors from around the country to brainstorm ways to improve AI instruction.

“AI is just evolving super quickly, so as educators, we need to make sure that we catch up with these changes before it gets too late,” Alikhani says. “We don’t have time to revisit classes in 10 years anymore. We can’t delay the study of the ethical issues and biases.”

Other recipients include a proposed SCI Makerspace — from Rebecca Morris, Elizabeth Mahoney, Jacob Biehl, and Prashant Krishnamurthy — which will support mentoring of students learning how to utilize technologies in digital and physical interactions. Another team, including Chelsea Gunn, Ahmed Ibrahim, Leona Mitchell, and Sherif Khattab, banded together to develop strategies for including more underrepresented groups in greater numbers within the field of cybersecurity.

The final proposal aims to instill a peer mentoring program for recipients of Pitt2Pitt scholarships, which award recent Pitt graduates with scholarships to attend a professional or graduate program at Pitt. Rosta Farzan, Kelly Shaffer, Elizabeth Mahoney, Youtao Zhang, and Prashant Krishnamurthy designed this project, which will also involve Larissa Ciuca, SCI’s director of student success, to unify support efforts across all populations.

Lee says each project addresses different aspects of ethics, mentoring, and equity in different ways. The program hopes for project longevity and infrastructure that will allow for long-term, productive change in the school within these three areas.

“Actual change is not a one-time event,” Lee says. “Actual change is a sustained effort. We wanted people to be thinking about what it would mean to continue doing this work after our one year of relatively small investment has expired.”