Date Posted: 12/14/2022

By Louis DiPietro

Three students and three recent alumni from the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science received the inaugural Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) awards.   

Administered by Cornell Bowers CIS’ Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the awards recognize graduate and undergraduate students who’ve committed to creating a more inclusive culture within Cornell Bowers CIS and broadly in the fields of computing and information science. 

The award ceremony, postponed from earlier this year due to Covid concerns and held Nov. 16, honored award winners from the Spring 2022 semester. 

“The DEIB awards recognize change agents who are not only informing and shaping our data-driven, connected world but challenging and dismantling systemic barriers for underrepresented innovators in STEM fields,” said LeeAnn Roberts, director of Cornell Bowers CIS’ Office of DEI. “These students embody the leadership, collaboration, and community building necessary to ensure that computing and information technologies of tomorrow represent and benefit all of us.” 

In her remarks, Kavita Bala, dean of Cornell Bowers CIS, noted programs throughout the college and its departments, as well as student-led organizations that help students navigate their education and find strong support systems. 

“While we have made great progress, we also recognize there is still work to be done,” Bala said. “Looking ahead, the college aims to further grow the diversity of backgrounds, identities, intellectual persuasions, and passions of our students. Our hope is our graduates will be ever more reflective of the world and communities from which they come, and the futures they will shape.”  

Graduate students who received awards are:  

Chinasa Okolo, a doctoral student in the field of computer science, studies how frontline healthcare workers in rural India perceive and value artificial intelligence. At Cornell, Okolo has mentored undergraduate students in research projects, participated as a mentor for the CUEMPower program through Diversity Programs in Engineering (DPE), and mentored tens of prospective applicants to graduate programs. Within Cornell Bowers CIS, Okolo has served on a host of committees including the CIS Director of Diversity and Inclusion Search, Computer Science Task Force on Fighting Racism, Computer Science Dean Search Committee, Computer Science Visit Days, and the Ph.D. Admissions Committee. She also serves as the co-president of Graduate Underrepresented Minorities in Computing (GradURMC), helping to foster community between marginalized students in Computing and Information Science. She is co-advised by Nicki Dell, Bharath Hariharan, and Aditya Vashistha.   

Sara Venkatraman, a doctoral student in the field of statistics and data science, uses statistical methods to analyze temporal and spatial phenomena. Advised by Martin Wells and Sumanta Basu, Venkatraman has published research examining the association between citywide lockdown and COVID-19 hospitalization rates in multigenerational households in New York City. She also collaborates with the Division of General Internal Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. This past summer, she worked on urban planning research with the NYC Department of Design and Construction through a Public Interest Technology fellowship from Cornell Tech. 

Undergraduate recipients of the DEIB awards are:   

Oluwatise Alatise CS ‘23. She serves as mentorship chair of the Underrepresented Minorities in Computing (URMC) student group and previously served as co-president for Women in Computing at Cornell (WICC). Alatise led the Introduction to Digit Product Design course run by Appdev and has introduced design to students in both URMC and WICC. “She has been an incredible mentor for so many people,” wrote Alatise’s nominator. “She is an incredible friend and makes everyone in both URMC and WICC feel so supported from small ways, such as class advice or introducing design to so many individuals, and advocating consideration for URMs to be included in Appdev.” 

Natalie Kalitsi IS ’22. Together with Miah Sanchez – a fellow DEIB award winner, Kalitsi served as co-president of the URMC student group. Kalitsi’s numerous accomplishments at Cornell include: helped secure more than $20,000 in corporate sponsorships and Cornell Giving Day funds to support URMC; helped URMC students secure internships; worked with Cornell Bowers CIS leaders to establish the URMC Summer Opportunities Fund; collaborated with Cornell Bowers CIS leaders to refine the CSMore program; secured 10 LeetCode premium subscriptions and distributed them within the URMC community, and much more. 

Miah Sanchez CS ’22. During her time at Cornell, Sanchez served as URMC co-president with Kalitsi, a fellow DEIB award winner, and helped advocate for the creation of the Cornell Bowers CIS’ Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. As a leader within URMC, Sanchez managed an E-board of 30 students, created a scholarship to support URMs and their summer endeavors, and mentored five students – all women in Bowers CIS – some of whom have gone on to serve in leadership roles in URMC and other Cornell groups, like AppDev. Outside of URMC, Sanchez worked as a teaching assistant for CS 2110 and CS 2800. She is currently a software engineer at Figma in New York City. 

Ziqing Wang SDS ’22. Prior to the pandemic, Wang volunteered with the Southern Tier AIDS program, introducing visitors to the program and its various resources including HIV testing, social workers, affiliated physicians/nurses, syringe exchanges, and other NGO organizations. In addition, Wang was involved in an Alternative Break program that sought to serve at-risk youth at the Mountain Lake Academy, a residential educational program in Lake Placid, New York. During the pandemic, as discrimination against Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) individuals became more evident, she was motivated to work with the Stanford Center for Asian Health Research and Education (CARE) to study disparities in vaccine uptake. That work led to a paper – since submitted to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, and an earlier version was presented at various conferences – that revealed large disparities in immunization across ethnic groups and analyzed the dynamics of the disparities over time.  

The DEIB awards are made possible by the generous support of the Hopper Dean Foundation. 

Louis DiPietro is a writer for the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science.