Code Documentary Opens Gender Dialogue


Nearly 200 students and faculty turned out this week for a special screening of “Code: Debugging the Gender Gap,” a documentary that examines the reasons more women aren’t pursuing careers in computing.

The screening–sponsored by the Computer Engineering and Computer Science Department—was followed by a panel discussion with Wonder Women Tech Founder Lisa Mae Brunson and Director of Global Partnerships Simmone Park; WE Labs and Innovatory Managing Partner Lincoln Bauer; and three female CSULB computer science alumni; Bonnie Hoang, Eileen McCremens, and Siori Hojo.

“We got quite a bit of positive response from the students. There was a good amount of discussion,” said CECS Assistant Professor Birgit Penzenstadler, who heard about the documentary while attending the Grace Hopper Celebration in October and organized the screening and the panel.

“I think the movie did a really good job of creating awareness without pointing fingers,” said CECS Chair Burkhard Englert. The fact that students stayed to the end of the three-hour event was evidence they were engaged in the topic, he added.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that from 2010-2020 there will be nearly 1.4 million computing-related jobs openings available in the country. According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, U.S. computing graduates can fill only 32 percent of those jobs with current college graduation rates.

Increasing the number of women in computing would expand the employment pool, enhance innovation, reflect the customer base, improve companies’ bottom lines, and promote equality. NCWIT also points out that computing is a good career for women because it is stable, has low unemployment rates, and many profitable companies. In addition, computing is growing faster than other STEM fields,

But fewer women are studying computer science now than in the mid-1980s, when the proportion of female computer science students peaked at about 40 percent. Within Computer Engineering, women comprised 11.9 percent of the 2013-14 graduates, up from 11.2 percent in 2012-13, according to the Computing Research Association. The number of women among 2013-14 bachelor’s graduates in Computer Science was 14.1 percent, similar to the 14.2 reported for 2012-13.

The reasons for this are complicated and perplexing. NCWIT and other groups, as well as universities and computer science professors, have been working to raise awareness of the issue and reverse the trend for decades.

But CODE sheds new light on the problem. The rise of the “brogrammer,” a hypermasculine stereotype that equates computing with male camaraderie, has discouraged some women from entering computing, according to the documentary, as has the idea of “hackers” with their accompanying images of poor personal hygiene and caffeine-drink-accompanied all-night coding marathons.

Suggesting that girls decide against computer science early on, the documentary proposes more encouragement for girls, better computer science education in high school, and a more inclusive culture, both at work and school.

The documentary featured interviews with female tech executives, including US Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, Facebook Director of Engineering Jocelyn Goldfein, Ericsson VP Roz Ho, and former NetApp Senior Vice President of Engineering Helen Bradley. Other women working in tech such as Pinterest software engineer Tracy Chou, Yelp software engineer Jenn Wang, and Pixar Director of Photography Danielle Feinberg also shared their experiences with the documentary filmmakers.

“I think there are a lot of lessons we can take from this movie,” said Tracy Bradley Maples, College of Engineering Acting Associate Dean for Academic Programs, who suggests possible future screenings for high school teachers and guidance counselors. “Hopefully together we can make an impact.”

Fellowship Opportunity at U.S. Department of Energy

Not only does the U.S. Department of Energy support 17 research labs, but also many internship and fellowship programs for students. U.S. DOE representative Sandra Cortez was at CSULB Wednesday to find candidates for the Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship and other programs.

The Mickey Leland fellowship, named after the late Texas congressman and anti-poverty activist, was created in 1995 to improve opportunities for underrepresented STEM students. It provides college students with a chance to develop research skills with the DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy.

For 10 weeks during the summer, participants train under program officials and scientists, then present their research findings at a technical forum. The deadline to apply is December 21.

“Fossil energy isn’t the most popular area among students, but it still needs a lot of attention,” said Cortez.

The DOE’s Fossil Energy work includes research and development into clean coal, maintaining the nation’s emergency petroleum reserves, ensuring environmentally sustainable domestic and global supplies of oil and natural gas, and regulating natural gas imports and exports.

The 50 students selected for the fellowship each receive a weekly stipend, housing subsidy, and round-trip airfare from home to the national lab where they are assigned. The fellowship runs from June 6-August 12 and begins with a trip to the DOE’s Washington, DC-area office.

Besides the Mickey Leland fellowship, the DOE offers a number of other programs, including the Science Undergraduate Lab Internship (SULI), the Office of Science Graduate Fellowship, the Minority Educational Institution Student Partnership Program (MEISPP), and the DOE Computational Science Graduate Fellowship. The department also offers year-round research opportunities for scholars and faculty.

For more information, visit

Entrepreneurs Get Lesson on Business Plans


Writing a business plan is critical to understanding all facets of the business, says Bruce Sparks, a senior business advisor for the Long Beach Small Business Development Center.

Innovation Challenge Advisory Committee member Larry Pate compared starting a business without a business plan to taking a cross-country trip without knowing how you’ll reach your destination. “The odds of success of just getting in the car and driving are slim. You might have a fun time, but it will take you a long time to get there.”

Students interested in entering the 2015 Innovation Challenge got a lesson Tuesday in a key part of the competition: creating the business plan. The contest offers $50,000 in seed funding and business services to the winning business idea.

“It’s one thing to have an idea—it’s another to say how you’re going to make money,” said Pate, chief learning officer at Decision Systems International.

Bruce Sparks, a senior business advisor for the Long Beach Small Business Development Center, told students that the “if you build it, they will come approach” is a recipe for failure. Instead, entrepreneurs must clearly understand their market, their customers, and how their product or service can add value or solve a problem.

“You have to understand your market. And it has to make financial sense,” said Sparks, who has helped start more than 100 businesses.

Although there’s a saying that business plans are often obsolete by the time they get to the printer, Sparks said the process of writing one forces entrepreneurs to explore questions that will increase chances of success.

It’s important to have a thorough understanding of all aspects of the business. Many small business owners have deep understanding of some facets, such as operations, but may not be as clear about finances or their market.

A business plan starts with an Executive Summary, which is written last. Other components include a description of the business, marketing and sales strategy, financial analysis, details of the products or services being produced, and information about the company’s organization and management.

Sparks suggests starting with the marketing plan, since that will help answer key questions such as: how large is the market, is it fragmented or dominated by a few companies, and growing or stable. A great deal of market research is necessary. Engineering librarian Hema Ramachandran suggested students take advantage of databases in the Engineering Library. Other business plan resources can be found on the Innovation Challenge website.

The makeup of the management team is critical, as is an advisory board filled with experienced professionals capable of stepping in if the business runs into trouble. “Even if you have an incredible idea, a bad team will mess it up every time,” said Sparks.

Business plans submitted by Innovation Challenge contestants will be reviewed by professionals. “We’re looking at these business plans like they’re real business plans,” Sparks said.

If companies are competing on price, their costs must be lower too. And if the company is offering a new product, there better be customers waiting to buy it. “If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete,” said Sparks, repeating the advice of legendary General Electric CEO Jack Welch.

Getting Software Engineers and Game Designers to Talk

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Adam Moore, Sebastian Gutierrez, and Elliot Gertner preview Gutierrez’s new game, ‘Duke n Doug’s Trampoline Rush.’

It takes more than a compelling storyline to produce a successful videogame. Besides a storyteller, a game development team needs visual and sound artists, marketers, and software engineers to build the game and launch it on different platforms.

That’s why it’s so important that artists and software engineers learn how to communicate.

A former project manager, computer science lecturer Elliot Gertner has been interested in getting different types of people to work together for years. And on the other side of the campus in Fine Arts, so has film and electronic arts lecturer Adam Moore.

The two got together and proposed a joint course for the spring semester. Their proposal—“Improving Communication between Software Engineering Students and Game Design Students through Cross Disciplinary Collaborative Projects”— earned them a CSULB High-Impact Practices Award. HIP awards recognize efforts with the potential to significantly improve student engagement and learning.

Both are hoping the course can create a roadmap for interdisciplinary collaboration that other departments can use. Under their proposal, the two faculty will begin their classes separately—Gertner teaching CECS 343 (Introduction to Software Engineering) and Moore teaching FEA 365 (Introduction to Game Writing and Design).

For the last half of the semester, their students will collaborate on projects via Beachboard, eRoom, video conferencing, and shared document cabinets. Gertner said in addition to gaming, students will learn about working remotely, a skill that’s in high demand in today’s workplace.

“This is the future of the entertainment industry—interactive games,” said Gertner. “It’s a real problem. That’s what studios want from students—to be able to communicate and be part of a team.”

“I’m insanely excited about this collaboration,” Moore said. “Software engineers are going to work for studios where there are designers. This is a great training ground for getting people to work in the 21st century.”

Gertner said artists are typically creative, floating limitless numbers of possible ideas before settling on one. Software engineers, however, usually first want to understand the requirements. And if an idea is suggested, their minds are geared to figuring out whether it’s technically possible.

For example, a software engineer’s reaction to an artist suggesting a game with a hundred characters might be: “We’d need a supercomputer for that.” Gertner said artists often perceive engineers’ focus on technicalities as constraining. Frequently, discussions stop too early because of that.

Mechanical engineering senior Sebastian Gutierrez, who is enrolled in Moore’s game development class, is already getting a taste of interdisciplinary collaboration. He had an idea for his game—called “Duke n Doug’s Trampoline Rush”—but needed team members to help him build it. In the game, people fall from a burning house into an emergency stretcher, and are bounced into an ambulance or a police van, depending on whether they’re victim or criminal.

His team includes another mechanical engineering major, two sound engineers, and artists. So far, he said it’s been interesting working with teammates with different skills and perspectives.

Students Incorporate Tutoring into Study Routines

tutoring center 001There are alternatives to noisy study groups or struggling through tough engineering assignments alone. At the Engineering Tutoring Center, there’s help in the form of tutors who’ve already successfully made it through the same courses probably giving you angst.

The center employs more than two dozen tutors, with a focus on undergraduate engineering courses with low completion rates. The tutors need to have earned a B or better in the courses they’re tutoring in, preferably here at CSULB. “That way they can tutor based on experience,” said Academic Success Program Coordinator Katarina Spralja.

As the Engineering Tutoring Center celebrates its second year in EN2-300, students are increasingly incorporating tutoring into their study routines. “It’s part of their process,” said Spralja. “Tutoring is that second pillar of instruction. Students build that into their study habits.”

For each engineering department, there are from a handful to several dozen courses where scheduled tutoring is offered. Engineering students can also receive tutoring in additional courses, although the center advises tutors not to assist outside their areas of experience. Tutors can also offer time-management tips, share their experience in a major, or answer other academic-related questions. “Tutors are trained to help as much as they can, but we don’t want the blind leading the blind,” Spralja said.

Previously, tutoring was provided by the individual engineering departments. Last fall, it moved into the Engineering Tutoring Center in EN2-300, allowing a more unified structure and approach. The center, which is funded by the Highly Valued Degree Initiative, includes a quiet room with lots of whiteboards and markers, and a lab with computers running AutoCAD, SolidWorks, CATIA, MatLab, and Libre Office.

“We’re all under one roof. We have the space for about 70 students and new furniture,” said Spralja. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. Students really appreciate the tutors and service.”
Students seeking help come from all five engineering departments. According to a recent survey of students who have met with tutors, about forty percent heard about the center through their instructors, more than one-third through recommendations from fellow students, and one-quarter from fliers. Spralja said she’s trying to get the word out by giving presentations to classes and asking professors to include tutoring information on class syllabi. Half of tutoring recipients are return visitors, she said.

The most common reasons that respondents visited the Tutoring Center were to seek help in understanding the material better (53 percent), prepare for a quiz or exam (47 percent), or increase their grade (35 percent). Overall, students who were surveyed gave the tutoring center high marks, although several wished for extended hours. “Great job. I’m thankful for the College of Engineering for giving us the chance to improve ourselves,” wrote one student.

This semester tutoring services are available from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The center is also open as a study place on Fridays and Saturdays. Dec. 9, 2015 is the last day of tutoring this semester until reopening again in the spring semester. For more information or to view schedules, visit the Tutoring Center.

Modern Power Grid Needs Advanced Controls

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In the 1990s, the U.S. built out the broadband networks that laid the foundation for today’s high-speed Internet and resulting technologies. And now, the nation needs to put that same kind of attention into upgrading its power grid.

Keyue Smedley, an IEEE Fellow and professor of electrical engineering and computer science at University of California Irvine, said the current grid was designed for predictable loads and centralized control. That means when there’s system instability or a blackout, it cascades to other parts of the power grid. And new types of uses—such as electric-vehicle charging stations—are intermittent and difficult to prepare for, as are renewable sources of energy, such as solar or wind.

Blackouts and brownouts are becoming increasingly commonplace as the system struggles in this new environment. And when a blackout occurs, it can last for several days and afflict entire regions, said Smedley, speaking at the 6th annual IEEE Green Energy and Systems Conference (IGESC) at CSULB on Monday. Another problem is that the grid doesn’t make efficient use of renewable energy.

When the US’s electrical grid was established more than a century ago, it was adequate to meet demand. “As time goes on, we add washing machines, we add air conditioners—our operating margin is getting smaller and smaller,” Smedley said. “After serving for a hundred years, this power system is showing some signs of aging.”

A full 40 percent of total energy consumption goes to electrical power generation. And 70 percent of it comes from fossil fuels. “Our brothers and sisters are digging out fossil fuels so we can sit in a comfortable room drinking our coffee,” Smedley said.

Currently, only 7 percent of energy generated comes from renewables. “We’ve been talking about renewables for a long time,” said Smedley. “Why are we still waiting for all these years?”

Smedley herself has been pondering electrical control systems for a couple of decades—since she came up with her one-cycle control concept (OCCC) while a grad student at Caltech. OCCC calls for actuators that would control power flow and allow for two-way communication. Such control would enable more efficient use of renewable energy and secure grids in the event of terrorist attacks or natural disasters.

The California Public Utilities Commission is requiring that one-third of energy in the state come from renewables by 2020—with the possibility it could be upped to 50 percent by 2030. “You can’t achieve that without a faster control system,” Smedley said. “Microelectronics revolutionized IT,” she said. “Now it’s time to siliconize our power system.”

Record Attendance for IGESC 2015

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CSULB electrical engineering professor Henry Yeh,conference chair since 2009, opens IGESC to record attendance Monday.

The IEEE Green Energy and Systems Conference (IGESC) returned to California State University Long Beach for the sixth year on Monday, celebrating record attendance as interest in sustainability increases. This year’s theme was renewable technology for green buildings and energy efficiency.

“I believe there are still a lot of challenges to overcome and many opportunities for research and development projects,” said electrical engineering professor Henry Yeh, who founded the IEEE Systems Council Chapter in 2009 and has served as the conference chair since 2010.

More than 200 researchers and students attended this year’s conference, which included two tracks, a student poster session, a keynote presentation by University of California Irvine professor of electrical engineering and computer science Keyue Smedley on the need to use microelectronics in the current electrical system, and a discussion by Office of Naval Research Program Officer Lynn J. Petersen, on the electric warship as a microgrid.

Eighteen papers were presented by researchers from California State Universities Long Beach, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Luis Obispbo; Georgia Institute of Technology; George Washington University; University of New Mexico; University of Saint Thomas; Suez University and Taif University in Saudi Arabia; Ecole de Technologie Superieure in Canada; Singapore-based Tum Create Inc.; and Portgual-based R&D Nester.

The technical program and review committee was chaired by Chit-Sang Tsang. Members included computer engineering and computer science chair Burkhard Englert and professor Mehrdad Aliasgari, mechanical and aerospace engineering’s Bei Lu, chemical engineering’s Ted Yu and electrical engineering’s Mohammad Mozumdar, Chaw-Long Chu, Boi Tran, Fumio Hamano, I-Hing Khoo and Yeh.

STEM Day Speaker: ‘No Limit to What You Can Accomplish’

CSULBCOE5 Nearly 200 middle and high school students on Friday got to make slime monsters, Styrofoam gliders, spaghetti marshmallow bridges and balloon rocket cars—as well as hear advice from successful engineers. Dean Forouzan Golshani welcomed students to the College of Engineering’s third annual Engineering@theBeach STEM Day, saying becoming an engineer will let them “contribute in many ways to improving the quality of life.”

Speaking at STEM Day, Robin Thorne, a chemical engineer and CEO of Long Beach-based CTI Environmental Inc., told students that things can seem difficult, but bad situations can be overcome. “I want to share some of the things I’ve learned along the way,” said Thorne, adding that “My path to engineering wasn’t always a bed of roses.” Among the tips Thorne shared: Always encourage someone else and celebrate your success.

Thorne said seeds need soil, sunlight, water, and fertilizer to grow. Thorne said she received soil in the foundation her parents laid. Her father always told her she could go anywhere and do anything. Her mother taught her perseverance and a strong work ethic and told her to get an education, because that’s something no one can take away from you.

Sunlight, she said, came in rays of hope from those who came before her, such as teachers, mentors, role models, and successful engineers. The faith and belief in herself was the water, she said, and the love and understanding of family and friends the fertilizer.

“It’s really important that we surround ourselves with people who care about you,” she told the students. “It’s important to have friends who have your back.”

Thorne has more than 15 years of experience in environmental, health and safety compliance. A member of Long Beach’s Sustainable City Commission, she has also been involved in the Long Beach YMC Community Development Branch board, Soroptimist International of Long Beach, American Society of Safety Engineers, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and Long Beach Mombasa Sister City Association. Robin holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from Drexel University and is a California state-licensed General Engineering Contractor.

“She is not only very active in her job, but she’s really serving the community,” said COE K-12 Outreach & Recruitment Director Saba Yohannes-Reda, whose department organized the STEM Day event.

Staying on track and focusing on studying, scholarships, and getting into college is important, Thorne said. But even if students get off track, they can recover. “No matter what happens in your life, you can get through it,” she said. “There’s no limit to what you can accomplish.”