People of ACM - Juan E. Gilbert

October 3, 2013

Juan E. Gilbert is the Presidential Endowed Professor in Computing at Clemson University's School of Computing. He chairs the university's Human-Centered Computing Division and heads its lab. He is also a professor in Clemson's Automotive Engineering Department. He has research projects in naturally interactive systems, advanced learning technologies, usability and accessibility, Ethnocomputing (Culturally Relevant Computing) and databases/data mining.

Gilbert received his BS in Applied Science from Miami University in Ohio, and his Master's and PhD degrees in Computer Science from University of Cincinnati.

An ACM Senior Member, and Distinguished Member, Gilbert is an expert on issues relating to diversity and e-voting. He is past chair of the Coalition to Diversify Computing, a joint organization of ACM, the Computing Research Association (CRA), and the IEEE Computer Society (IEEE-CS). He was a keynote speaker at SIGCSE 2013, part of a panel on "Changing the Face of Computing." A member of USACM, (ACM's US Public Policy Council), Gilbert received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Engineering and Mathematics Mentoring from President Barack Obama in 2011, and the FCC Chairman's Award for Advancement in Accessibility in 2013.

He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement Science (AAAS), a National Associate of the National Research Council of the National Academies, and a Senior Member of IEEE-CS. In 2009, ne was named one of the 50 most important African-Americans in Technology by eAccess Corp. In 2013, he was named a Top Ten Tech Innovator by The Chronicle of Higher Education. He was also named a national role model by Minority Access Inc.

How did your passion for science fiction movies inspire your interest in computer science?

Well, my passion for science fiction movies really wasn't related to my interest in computer science. In the beginning, I watched sci-fi movies and I admired the really smart guy in the lab coat who had all the answers. I was originally a chemistry major, but as an undergraduate at Miami University in Ohio, I took a programming course and loved it! My Resident Advisor was a senior Systems Analysis major. When he graduated he had a good paying job at NCR Corporation. After learning more about Systems Analysis, which was our computer science major at that time, I decided to change my major and become a computing professional. The sci-fi movies developed my passion for science, but eventually I found computing as my passion.

What is the status of your project to launch the Institute for African-American Mentoring in Computing Sciences which received a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation?

We received the grant on May 15, 2013, with an effective start date of May 1. Therefore, the grant is active. This summer we hosted several students at multiple universities to conduct research through a program called Distributed Research Experiences for Undergraduates (DREU), which is operated by the Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W) in partnership with the Coalition to Diversity Computing (CDC). The Institute for African-American Mentoring in Computing Sciences (iAAMCS pronounced, "I am CS") works with the DREU program to host undergraduate students affiliated with iAAMCS and interested in pursuing research. In the fall, we will launch additional projects, but right now, we are focused on getting our website up and our social media accounts live.

Are you encouraged by your efforts to revolutionize teaching through multiple instructor models that engage students with culturally relevant approaches?

Certainly! Our research and my personal experiences have shown nothing less than significant promise in this area. When you can explain things multiple ways and when one of those modes of explanation is culturally relevant, you can significantly increase learning. We continue to work in this area and we are excited about what we are seeing thus far.

As a leader in designing computer-based solutions to real world problems, what advice would you give to students who are unsure of their aptitude for science and math?

I meet young students who often think we sit behind a computer and write programs all day. They think we work with artifacts and phenomena, not people. Well, when I share with them the work we are doing in making voting more accessible, instruction more relevant, etc., they get excited about computer science. Students who are unsure about their aptitude for science and math are typically not motivated. When they see the possibilities that a CS degree can offer, and the impact they can have on society and on the lives of others, students often work harder and spend more time studying because they understand the payoff. When students can see the light at the end of the tunnel, they know what's ahead and they are willing to do the work to reach their dreams. Our aim is to generate excitement among these students about the possibilities open to them.