Faces on Campus – Adrienne Slaughter
Dr. Adrienne Slaughter holds a BS in Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an MA in Learning, Design and Technology from Stanford University, and a PhD in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of Washington. Before joining the Northeastern faculty, Dr. Slaughter worked at multiple startups and spent many years at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. She has also spent time at MSR, Intel Research Seattle, and Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratory. Her work has straddled the areas of human-computer interaction, ubiquitous computing and mobile devices, user research, and data science.
Hi Adrienne! What influenced your decision to live and work in Seattle?
I grew up in Michigan, but I was interested in relocating to the Northwest in general. I had the opportunity to go to grad school in Seattle, so I did and I never left! There are a few factors that influenced my decision to settle down in Seattle. I like that the climate is mild–Seattle rarely experiences extremes of temperatures! There are also so many opportunities to get out of town to do fun things. I also like the people! I think the people in Seattle tend to be a little bit more laid-back than either the East Coast or Silicon Valley. That makes a huge difference!
What do you value most about Northeastern University-Seattle’s vision?
What I like about Northeastern overall is that experiential learning is encouraged, so the students here are really going to have an impact in the industry. I think that’s really fascinating. What I like about the Seattle campus specifically is that it is entrepreneurial. It is a new campus and it is a startup. Here at Seattle, we have an opportunity to build a campus, to build a unique culture and that’s really exciting. You don’t usually get that opportunity in higher education! There is also a really nice blend of a traditional higher education institution and an entrepreneurial startup. I think there is something really special about this mix. It is a very different approach to higher ed! The students at the Seattle campus really embrace the innovative energy around the campus. I would really love to start to figure out how to get more connected with some of the startups and help our students to get more involved in those.
What are your long-term objectives at Northeastern University–Seattle?
I think one of my main focuses is on building a positive culture on campus and helping to develop a community that integrates the campus with the larger community. I also think of it in terms of CCIS: what do we want the culture of this department to be? How can we figure out what steps we need to take to build the CCIS department and push forward in a direction we want to go? I have worked in this industry for some time and I have noticed that it can bring a lot of challenges. Unfortunately, some people working in this field have developed some personality and behavioral traits that aren’t necessarily professional. It’s very important to me that we do not adopt those negative traits in our department. I would really like to figure out how to set our students up for success, so we need to ensure that they are not propagating some of the less desirable behaviors and personalities in the tech industry. I definitely want our students to feel prepared, I want them to feel confident about their skills, and help them to achieve their goals.
How do you think more diversity can be encouraged in the Computer Science field?
That’s a big question! I think part of it is starting here on our campus and in our department, acknowledging that there is a lack of diversity in the tech industry at present. I want to help our students to identify what anti-diversity behaviors look like, and how to address them. I am a firm believer that that awareness has to start here.
Although there have been some initiatives developed to tackle this issue, there have been no obvious improvements yet. The lack of diversity may be on the precipice of change though, given some of the conversations that are happening now. However, the fact remains that there are fewer women working in computer science than there were 20 years ago.
Unfortunately, there does seem to be quite a lot of unintentional bias towards women in the tech industry. Most of them are seemingly innocuous comments. One comment in and of itself is not a big deal, but when the same comment is repeated to an individual over and over, from lots of different people in different capacities, it begins to take a toll. One drop of water is nothing, but lots of drops of water make for a very heavy bucket!
I don’t think there is going to be an easy solution for this problem. However, I believe that we should definitely make our students aware of this issue, so that when they notice bias or anti-diversity that they will call it out. It is only when we start identifying this issue that we really begin to notice its pervasiveness.
However, one of the wonderful things about this campus is the number of women enrolling in computer science programs is increasing. I think the ALIGN program is definitely a contributing factor in this increase and as such is one of the things that I really appreciate about this campus and this university.