The Empowering Leadership Alliance (ELA) is a computer science (cs) student organization aimed at helping minorities gain a sense of the opportunities that are available in various fields in technology, primarily through mentorship and research collaboration. Dr. Richard Tapia at Rice University launched the ELA in 2007 at a national level, and The University of Texas at Austin is part of the leadership team. UTCS started an ELA student chapter in 2007, and our chapter is the largest in the nation.
In 2009, the National Science Foundation gave the department funding for ELA students to get involved in undergraduate research. Samantha Salinas, a senior CS major and ELA research chair, shared her experiences in ELA over the last few years. One research project, which started in 2009, was an iPhone application called “Give a Hand.” The purpose of this mobile application was to help users keep up-to-date with natural disasters around the world. In general, the research group felt that natural disasters were something that “came and went” in the news, with most of the world forgetting that providing relief to the victims was an ongoing process that needed continuous attention. The group presented a research paper and poster at the Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing conference in San Francisco last year.
ELA members are currently working on a project called “Bookle,” a website where professors can upload their own textbooks and students can highlight confusing parts and blog about their questions and concerns. ELA looks at this website as a way of combining social networking with collaborative learning.
Samantha feels that her involvement in ELA has exposed her to a wide array of computer languages that she might not have otherwise been exposed to. She has also learned a great deal about problem solving, working in a group, collaborating, being assertive, and compromising when necessary. She feels that undergraduate research is important for all of these reasons, and it certainly helps students improve their applications to graduate schools, not to mention it looks good on a resume!
Please visit the ELA website for more information.