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Our Tapia 2022 Prep Session (#1203)

Topics/tags: Talks and Speeches

This year, Grinnell is sending about a dozen students to the CMD-IT/ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference [1]. If I recall correctly, three have scholarships from the conference, two are supported by the STARS Alliance, three by the Wilson program, and three-and-a-half [2] by the CS department’s restricted fund and BPC fund [3].

Whenever we send students to a conference, I try to have a pre-conference conversation on what to expect. Since not all twelve students could make it to the session, I thought I’d try to put it in writing. I’m also hoping that if I write down the details, I’ll do a better job of remembering in future years. Perhaps others will find it useful to adapt it to their own situations.

An Approximate Summary (aka TL;DR)


  • Be on time for the airport shuttles.
  • Keep receipts; we will reimburse you for reasonable expenses.
  • Bring and wear masks.

At the conference

  • Meet people! Building community is an essential element of the Tapia experience.
  • Attend the keynotes.
  • Go to a variety of other sessions.
  • Attend the Career Fair, but don’t consider it a failure if you do not get a job or internship. Not everyone does.
  • Visit posters and think about posters you might submit.

And beyond

  • Think about BPC infrastructure for Grinnell’s Computer Science Community.
  • Remember that you represent Grinnell.
  • Reach out to Sam if you have questions.
  • Have fun!


Please share your name, major and year, and something that excites you about the Tapia Celebration [4].

Personally, I’m excited about being in a place where most people do not look like me. Given the ways in which computing changes the world, I think we need all voices to participate in the development of computing technology. That’s particularly true because evidence suggests that White and Asian males are not particularly good at envisioning the experiences of people different than themselves.

I also have many friends in the Tapia community. I look forward to seeing them in person.

I’ve also heard from many of you that you value the opportunity to embrace your identity in a group of computer scientists. I look forward to supporting you.

About The Tapia Celebration

As you know and have experienced, the field of computer science is not nearly as diverse as it should be. About twenty-five years ago, a group of professional computer scientists formed the Tapia Celebration to help provide and build community for people from groups historically excluded from CS and to help support students from those groups. The early focus was on domestic people of color (aka Brown and Black people). It has since grown to include people with disabilities and women. At least I think it includes women; the Grace Hopper Celebration is a much larger conference to support women in computing, so Tapia does not always feel like it needs to provide extra support for women. In my experience, Tapia does less well for those not on the gender binary, but I hope that’s changing. The oSTEM conferences also provide a home for LGBTQ+ students.

Tapia is generally a manageable size. I think there will be about 1600 people there this year. Hopper, in contrast, has twenty thousand or more. And, while it is amazing and empowering to be with tens of thousands of women computing professionals [5], it’s also nice to be in a less overwhelming place. Students who have attended both tell me that they appreciate Tapia’s size and the greater ability to talk to people one-on-one. It’s also been my experience that Tapia focuses much more on undergraduates, trying to help them persist and succeed (and consider graduate school).

Goals for The Tapia Celebration

Man folks are involved in getting you to the Tapia Celebration, and each has its own set of goals for you attending Tapia.

The Tapia Celebration’s primary goals are what I’ve described before. It’s intended to help build community and to support students in CS. Tapia also has the implicit goal that you come back to your home institution and further build community. You can help build community by meeting people at Tapia. For some, that will be easy. For introverts like me, it will be harder. But please try.

Grinnell College CS’s goals for sending students to Tapia are primarily to help provide better support for our students who don’t get to see many people like them in the department. As we’ve said, this year we also want the Tapia attendees to commit to building a better infrastructure for historically excluded students to supplement existing structures. In case you’re not sure, these are some of our primary structures to help broaden participation: the Women and Gender Minorities in Computing group, the Computing Peers United (CPUs) program; our Peer Mentoring and Tutoring program; active discussion of BPC issues in our courses, particularly in CSC-151; and CS Table, where we try to include some regular discussion of these issues [6]. They are not enough. You’ve had some good ideas of other things to do, and we will learn of others at the Celebration. I hope to find funding so that your time spent building BPC infrastructure is appropriately compensated.

Grinnell’s Wilson Program’s goals revolve around leadership and innovation. Spend some time thinking about these issues at the Celebration and be prepared to report back.

STARS wants us to use our time at Tapia to help build infrastructure at individual institutions to broaden participation in computing. It also supports connections between institutions on those issues. We’ll be collaborating with STARS throughout the year on these issues.

You likely have your own goals. It sounds like most of you are going for reasons similar to those above, particularly to have a chance to embrace who you are in an environment in which there are many more people who look like you. I know that some students go to Tapia primarily because of the Career Fair. And it’s fine that you take advantage of the Career Fair as a way to find internships and jobs. But please don’t feel that your time at Tapia has not been a success if you don’t walk away with an internship or job. Not everyone gets one. And talking to folks about these issues is still a great learning experience.

The Career Fair

It’s been some time since I’ve been to an in-person Tapia Career Fair. In my experience, Career Fairs can be madhouses, with students energetically looking for positions. Make sure to take time to learn about the places and about the experiences of people you meet. And don’t just focus on the big companies; many smaller places can be great places to intern or work.

Be polite and professional.

You should also dress professionally, but not to the extreme. Tapia is relatively casual. For men (or anyone, I suppose), khakis and a polo should be fine. You’ll see some people dressed better and others dressed more casually.

Make sure to bring copies of your résumé. Twenty or so copies should suffice. And upload your résumé to the database.

I must admit that my favorite Tapia Career Fair experience was at the first Tapia I attended, which I also think was the first time Tapia had a Career Fair. A Grinnell student decided that the best thing for them to do would be to visit each booth and ask how they handled microaggressions at their company. In many cases, they then had to explain what a microaggression is. Still, I would not recommend that you do the same. You can, however, ask about inclusion initiatives and such.

I also met one of my favorite non-Grinnell colleagues at the first Tapia Career Fair. We still chat regularly and they’ve helped some Grinnell students find internships and such. So remember, part of attending Tapia is making connections.

As I noted above, don’t expect to walk away from Tapia with an internship or job or even a lead on one. Consider other ways that you can benefit from the Career Fair. At the very least, you get some practice in the job search process.

On that note … a colleague reminds me that CS Career Fairs often provide opportunities for conference swag. Make sure to leave a bit of room in your suitcase.

Also: The Career Fair is only Wednesday evening and Thursday (all day). Friday is reserved for interviews with employers. So plan your time to visit on Wednesday and Thursday.

Presentations and Such

Tapia, like most conferences, has a variety of presentations. A few presentations are intended for the whole conference community and have nothing scheduled in conflict with them. Those are held in large auditoriums. These presentations include the Fireside Chat on Wednesday evening, the two keynotes on Thursday morning, and the Ken Kennedy lecture on Friday morning. I expect you to attend all of those. I also expect you to attend the newcomers’ session on Wednesday afternoon and the conference banquet on Friday evening.

The rest of the day, you’ll find that Tapia offers multiple simultaneous sessions, sometimes as many as ten. There are many kinds of sessions.

  • Talks are typically given by one or two speakers on a particular topic.
  • Panels typically involve a group of people who discuss a topic, often with different viewpoints, with a moderator who manages the discussion.
  • Birds of a Feature (BoFs) sessions are intended to be more of a large-group discussion. Usually, anyone who attends can participate. Don’t be nervous, though; you are not forced to participate.
  • Workshops help you learn new things.
  • Posters are what they sound like; students have created posters of their work. They stand by them and discuss their work. I strongly encourage you to attend the posters. You should also consider submitting a poster for next year. After all, if you get a poster accepted, you normally get a scholarship to attend.

Tapia differs from most other conferences in that the foci of the sessions differ. At most conferences, sessions are an opportunity to present new work. Tapia includes some of that. But you’ll also find sessions that focus more on diversity issues, including some that reflect personal stories, as well as sessions that help build skills or knowledge, such as how to participate in an interview. I’d encourage you to try out a variety of kinds of sessions.

Since you won’t be able to attend all sessions, you might find it helpful to partner with another student or students so that you can report back to each other on what you’ve learned.

Other Conference Activities

The conference also has a variety of breaks and receptions, as well as some informal meet-ups. These provide an opportunity to meet with other people. The connections you form at Tapia can last for years; please take the time to meet other people. I met this year’s Tapia Chair when he was still a student; I recall sitting at a table and talking for a while, although I don’t remember everything we discussed. I haven’t taken advantage of that connection (at least I don’t think I have), but it’s nice having someone I know I can reach out to about conference issues.

Most of the breaks and receptions have food. Please plan to eat at them, if possible. (We’ll talk more about meals and such in a moment.)

Practical Issues: Required Sessions

We expect that those funded by STARS and Grinnell will attend all of the keynotes and other common sessions, as well as the STARS Celebration. I’d recommend that everyone attend those sessions. Here’s my approximate list of sessions you should plan to attend, along with some optional ones.


  • Wednesday, 5:15 p.m., Newcomers Orientation Session
  • Wednesday, 6:00 p.m., Welcome and Fireside Chat
  • Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., Career Fair [Optional]


  • Thursday, 8:30 a.m., Grinnell Gathering [Optional, location TBD]
  • Thursday, 9:00 a.m., Welcome and Announcements
  • Thursday, 9:30 a.m., Plenary Keynote 1
  • Thursday, 10:15 a.m., Plenary Keynote 2


  • Friday, 8:30 a.m., Grinnell Gathering [Optional, Location TBD]
  • Friday, 9:00 a.m., Welcome and Announcements
  • Friday, 9:30 a.m., Ken Kennedy Lecture
  • Friday, 6:00 p.m., Awards, Banquet, and Dancing (you can leave after dinner)


  • Saturday, 8:30 a.m. (all day): STARS
  • Saturday, Dinnertime, Dinner with Grinnell Alums [Optional, current being planned]

Practical Issues: Communication

I’ve set up an information spreadsheet for all of us to enter information. Feel free to text me if you need something or have a question.

Whova is the primary conference app. Make sure you get it before the conference. You should be able to reach people via Whova.

I also expect to set up a WhatsApp or something similar for us to communicate.

Practical Issues: Transportation

You should have received the details from our Academic Assistant [7].

Grinnell will transport those it has funded (plus the two STARS students) to the airport and then back from the airport. Those with Tapia scholarships are, unfortunately, on your own.

Please be on time for the shuttle. If you miss the shuttle, you are on your own to get to/from the airport. You may want to set up a buddy system to remind each other to get up in time. I think it’s at 4:30 a.m. or some similarly painful hour on Wednesday morning.

When I’m in DC, I generally take public transportation from the airport to the hotel; it’s worked fine for me. I would encourage you to do the same. However, if you are uncomfortable taking public transportation (and you are funded by Grinnell or STARS), the department will reimburse you for the cost of an Uber or Lyft or Cab.

Practical Issues: Money

For those funded by Grinnell or STARS, our goal is that all your expenses are covered, including transportation, hotel, registration, and meals. You will likely have to pay for some things in DC, such as meals and transportation. Please keep receipts for reimbursement. I believe the current College limit is $40 per day for meals. Talk to me if you have difficulty staying within that limit. Also, note that Grinnell will not reimburse for alcohol.

I realize that not all of you may have the resources to pay in advance and then get reimbursed. Contact me if you need cash or need me to Venmo you some money in advance. As you’d expect, if you borrow money from me, you have to pay me when you get reimbursed. You can also choose to give me your receipts, and I’ll turn them in for reimbursement.

Practical Issues: Hotel Rooms

You will be sleeping three or four to a hotel room. I believe most rooms have two beds. You can choose how best to divide up sleeping arrangements, whether it be two to a bed, or one person on the floor, or whatever.

Please keep your hotel room neat and tidy; put clothes back in suitcases or in drawers, pick bedding up from the floor, and put books and such in neat stacks on the desk. The folks who have to clean the room will appreciate it.

Speaking of the housekeeping staff, I firmly believe that we should tip housekeeping staff. Make sure that one person from your room gets tip money from me and that you leave some each day. I tend to leave it on the bathroom sink in a folded piece of paper that says Housekeeping.

Note: Current COVID protocols may indicate that your room is not cleaned every day. If that is the case, we’ll just tip on the last day.

Practical Issues: COVID

I recommend that you take a COVID-19 test before you leave Grinnell (and don’t leave if you test positive).

You will be required to take a COVID-19 test before you check in to the conference. If you test positive, you will not be permitted to attend the conference. We will do our best to make sure that you are appropriately taken care of at the hotel.

The conference requires masking. Bring masks.

Visiting Washington, DC

I know that many of you are excited to be in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, we could not leave you a lot of time for visits. I believe you currently have some unscheduled time on Wednesday before the newcomers’ session. You should also be free Thursday after the end of sessions (5 p.m. or so) and Saturday after the STARS Celebration (although we will have dinner with alums).

Other Issues

Remember that you represent Grinnell. Please be on good behavior throughout the conference.

Many people are supporting your trip to Tapia, either financially or through their work. Please plan to send them thank-you notes. (We will probably do a few as a group.)

We will have a small-group debrief when we return which we will then follow-up with a presentation at CS Table or CS Extras (or both).

Postscript: Sending students to Tapia (or GHC) is not cheap. We usually spend about $600 on transportation, $600 on registration, $400 on hotel, and $200 on other expenses per student. So please make good use of the money (and effort) we spend. And please consider giving back to the BPC fund when you have an income.

[1] That’s a mouthful, isn’t it? I will use Tapia, Tapia 2022, or The Tapia Celebration for the rest of the musing.

[2] The half student graciously agreed to volunteer at the conference to cover their registration cost.

[3] The restricted fund and the BPC fund come from donations to the department, most frequently from alums, faculty, and families.

[4] Students should know a bit about this by now, since they’ve applied for funding and, in doing so, read about the celebration.

[5] The times I’ve gone to Hopper, I’ve appreciated the experience of being in the minority; I think it helps me support my students better.

[6] The theme-ing of our introductory sequence has also been shown to help.

[7] Nope, not putting their name in here.

Version 1.0 of 2022-09-03.