People of ACM - Shaundra Daily

July 9, 2024

How did you initially become interested in pursuing a career in computer science and computer engineering?

My interest in computer science and computer engineering began during my senior year of high school when I discovered my passion for solving mysteries through a chemistry course with a truly creative teacher. Initially, I considered pursuing a career with the FBI or CIA, and I was advised to major in either criminology or engineering. With limited knowledge of either field, I chose engineering due to my strong affinity for mathematics. When I enrolled at Florida State University, I initially selected civil engineering, influenced by a high school friend who had made the same choice. However, after an interview with Makola Abdullah about the nature of civil engineering and a deeper dive into the characteristics of the various engineering majors, I realized that electrical engineering aligned more closely with my interests and aptitudes. This decision marked the beginning of my journey into the world of computer science and computer engineering.

What is one example of a barrier to diversity, equity and inclusion that existed in the field as you were earning your degrees and starting your career?

Often, when someone mentions barriers to DEI, the immediate thought is related to race, ethnicity, and/or gender identity. However, we often fail to realize that the people who dominate a field also shape what is considered canon. Although I have stories related to my race and gender, my area of research (which, of course, is shaped by my identity) has been the most significant barrier throughout my career. During my senior year of college, a professor recognized my potential and suggested I pursue a PhD. When I inquired about the implications of earning a doctoral degree, she stated, "No one can tell you what to do." This statement was encouraging; however, I didn’t fully grasp the challenges I would face in pursuing my research interests.

After obtaining my BS, I transferred to Florida A&M University to work towards a PhD. Although I had conducted some research as an undergraduate, I struggled to find the right fit. The highlight of my week was outside the lab, engaging in outreach with K-12 students. This realization led me to consider the possibility of combining my passion for working with children with my love for engineering. Eventually, I recognized that my true calling was developing computational technologies for educating students. Unfortunately, when I expressed this aspiration, I was told, "You cannot get an engineering degree for educational work." Despite my efforts to explain that software engineering in the education context is a legitimate form of engineering, I was unable to convince others of this perspective. As a result, I left my program with a master's degree focused on neural networks, which provided a foundation for my research interests but did not fully encompass them. I then joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, where I collaborated with Seymour Papert, Marvin Minsky, and David Cavallo to further explore and develop my ideas at the intersection of education and technology.

In 2021, you and Nicki Washington launched the Alliance for Identity Inclusive Education Program (AiiCE). Will you tell us a little about this program and what makes it unique among DEI programs in the technology field?

The Alliance for Identity-Inclusive Computing Education is a national cross-sector partnership launched in 2021 that aims to increase the representation of historically underrepresented groups in computing through evidence-based, identity-inclusive interventions. AiiCE brings together diverse organizations including Duke University, Mount Holyoke College, Bard College, the University of Oregon, the Computer Science Teachers Association, and others, to drive systemic change across high school and postsecondary computer science education. The Alliance takes a collective impact approach organized around four interrelated domains: training for educators on identity-inclusive topics; development of identity-inclusive curricula and pedagogy; research on the impact of the interventions; and influencing policies to support identity-inclusive changes.

What makes AiiCE unique is its comprehensive focus on addressing systemic inequities through educator training, curriculum reform, research, and policy changes rather than solely student-focused interventions. By building the capacities of high school and college computer science educators to support identity-inclusive experiences, AiiCE aims to transform computing cultures and pathways from high school through college. The alliance also conducts research to assess the cultural competence of educators and students, department climates, and factors influencing underrepresented students' entry, retention, and completion of computing degrees. This research informs the development of policy recommendations to drive long-term changes in computing education.

A key part of your organization's mission is the AiiCE Policy Constellation. Will you tell us about some of the key policy goals your organization has in the K-12 space?

The key policy goals for AiiCE focus on creating a more inclusive and accessible computer science education environment. These policies aim to establish computer science as a foundational subject integrated from grades K-5 and a required subject from grades 6-12, ensuring that all students can learn computing skills. To support this goal, the policies prioritize adopting curricular and instructional materials aligned with identity-inclusive computing topics and approaches, minimizing technological risks and harm to students and teachers. Additionally, the policies seek to remove institutional and access barriers to computer science classes, making them available to all students regardless of their background. Comprehensive educator preparation and professional development programs supporting identity-inclusive pedagogy and practices are also crucial to these policies. Furthermore, developing local, regional, and state computer science education plans that center identity-inclusive computing practices and equitable structures to recruit, prepare, and retain a diverse pool of computer science educators is essential to creating a more inclusive computing education landscape.

In broad terms, what changes would you like to see in the computing field, and/or wider society, ten years from now?

In ten years, I want computing to be a space where people from all backgrounds and identities feel welcomed, supported, and valued. By integrating identity-inclusive topics into curricula, providing professional development for educators, and fostering inclusive cultures, we can create learning environments that attract and retain all students. As more diverse voices enter the field, I envision a future where technological development is informed by a wide range of perspectives, leading to innovations that benefit society. Biased and harmful technologies would be replaced by inclusive and ethical ones, promoting fairness and accessibility. Ultimately, these efforts' success will be reflected in the demographic makeup of the computing workforce and in the positive impact of technology on communities that have been traditionally marginalized. By embracing diversity as a source of strength and innovation, the computing field can create a more equitable and just society.


Shaundra Daily is the Cue Family Professor of the Practice in Electrical and Computer Engineering & Computer Science at Duke University. Her research focuses on designing, implementing, and evaluating technologies, programs, and curricula to support inclusive excellence in STEM fields. Daily has garnered over $40M in funding from public and private sources to support her collaborative research activities.

She was recently named a Co-Recipient (along with Nicki Washington) of the ACM Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award. Daily and Washington were cited for their work towards changing the national computing education system to be more equitable and to combat unjust impacts of computing on society.