Upstart/Startup Grant Projects (Now Closed)

The Upstart/Startup Grants provide $250-$500 grants for imaginative SCS student initiated projects for research, outreach, student activities or events. Visit the Upstart/Startup Program page for information on how you can apply.

Funds have been awarded to the following projects:

Women@SCS Graduate-to-Graduate Mentoring/Networking

Aruna Balakrishnan
Project Title: Women@SCS Graduate-to-Graduate Mentoring/Networking
Submitted by: Aruna Balakrishnan (Women@SCS Graduate Student)

This project fills a gap in the current Women@SCS graduate activities by building a semi-formal mentoring and networking program for graduate women in Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science. Being a female in a male-dominated field can be intimidating and discouraging at times. However, mentorship among and between graduate peers can ameliorate these conditions. In particular, mentorship in the field of research is vital for helping young scholars to counter feelings of isolation. Due to the time constraints of graduate students and the belief that mentoring relationships are most beneficial when they develop organically, this project will foster a flexible opportunity for those in need of advice, those seeking friendship, those willing to give advice, or those wanting to share a friendly smile. These opportunities will be framed as “Tea Hours” and include light refreshments.

The W@SCS Tea Hours will have two main aspects: regular tea hours and occasional panel discussions. Graduate women from throughout the six departments that make up SCS will meet in an informal, relaxed environment where they can seek advice or simply meet and chat with other women graduates. In some of the Tea Hours we will have panels of graduates from among our community who will lead specific discussions during the first or second hour of the tea hours. Examples of panel topics include how to change advisers, what to look for in a summer internship, and how to pick a dissertation committee. These events will be organized by Women@SCS graduate volunteers.

We will advertise Tea Hours and Tea Hour panel sessions on the Women@SCS web site and by email announcements. Volunteers will be solicited via email to the general SCS graduate women distribution list, at monthly Women@SCS meetings, and via word of mouth.

Mindkin - Mind over Chatter

Ulas Bardak, Betty Cheng and Jahanzeb Sherwani
Project Title: Mindkin - Mind over Chatter
Project home page:
Submitted by: Ulas Bardak, Betty Cheng and Jahanzeb Sherwani (SCS Graduate Students)

Mindkin is the brainchild of a group of CMU graduate students aiming to break the mold of traditional social networking sites. Using principles of gaming, it breaks away from the stereotypes in social-networking and makes social-networking accessible to the masses, including the introverts among us. Many social networking sites today have listings of their user profiles with pictures and details such as field of study for their users to peruse to find matches. The problem with providing users with these details at the beginning is that they form their impressions based on stereotypes: "This person has cool-looking friends, he must be cool." "This person studies computer science, she must be a weird geek." Mindkin circumvents this by displaying posts from our users anonymously for others to "like". With each post "liked", the user gains a piece of the author's profile, eventually getting his/her full picture, user name and a way to contact him/her.

The gaming aspect of Mindkin helps users overcome their shyness in meeting new people and avoids the boredom from perusing endless listings of user profiles while its simplicity appeals to users of all ages and interest levels in games. Its wide usability allows it to be used in numerous settings: in any kind of gathering places whether physical (e.g. airports, community centers) or virtual (e.g. online communities, Xbox Live), from casual (e.g. Starbucks, bars) to professional (e.g. conferences, campuses), as a standalone website, a plug-in to existing social-networking websites (e.g. MySpace, Friendster) or a mobile application. With a beta prototype already implemented, the Mindkin team is ready for some business guidance to begin pursuing these markets and excited to prove the value of Mindkin on an audience of 1800 CMU Freshmen at the orientation in August 2007.

Women@SCS Film for New Students Page

Alissa Briggs and Sana Yousuf
Project Title: Women@SCS Film for New Students Page
Project home page:
Submitted by: Alissa Briggs and Sana Yousuf (Women@SCS Undergraduate Students)

The Women@SCS website provides a large amount of material to all visitors but can be daunting for newcomers who are trying to locate information. In order to make newcomers feel at home on the website, we created a "New Students" page, which serves as a resource for these prospective students. It includes information that is pertinent and interesting to prospective students, such as programs, opportunities, academics, internships, research, fun activities, and more. This helps students feel welcomed by and informed about the university while promoting involvement in the Women@SCS organization.

Although the "New Students" page is very informative, it could benefit by increasing interaction with the user. Currently, the "New Students" page features a tour video borrowed from the SCS website, which gives a good pictures of the CS Department but does not target potential female students. In order to remedy this, we propose creating a video that highlights women who are studying computer science at CMU. This would have the following benefits:

  • Show that women are an important part of the CS Department at CMU
  • Allow potential students to hear from current students without physically being on camp
  • Highlight the role of the Women@SCS organization
This idea and "New Students" page was originally created by Sana and has now been passed along to Alissa to take over for the following school year. Filming will begin at the start of the 2007-2008 school year. If you have interest in participating or have any questions, please contact Alissa.

Creative Technology Nights for Girls (TechNights)

Ling Xu and Ronit Slyper
Project Title: Creative Technology Nights for Girls (TechNights)
Project home page:
Submitted by: Ling Xu and Ronit Slyper (Women@SCS Graduate Students)

This Upstart/Startup grant launches a new season of Creative Technology Nights for Girls, a workshop-based program focused on exposing middle and high school girls to creative technologies. The workshops are free to participants and introduce concepts such as computer animation, web design, programming, robotics, and interactive medias. Additionally, TechNights offers both undergraduate and graduate students from Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science the opportunity to practice their teaching, mentoring and presentation skills in an informal setting as well as a chance to contribute to the greater Pittsburgh community. The workshops are hosted at Pittsburgh CyberConXion by the kind permission of the owners. Through this program, we hope to engage a future generation of women in technology.

Developing Computer Science Understanding Through Directed Activities

Stephanie Rosenthal and Jennifer Tam
Project Title: Developing Computer Science Understanding Through Directed Activities
Submitted by: Stephanie Rosenthal and Jennifer Tam (Women@SCS Graduate Students)

With this start-up grant we propose to design a workbook of activities that teach Computer Science concepts and explore applications of those concepts to children ages 10-14. The workbook will consist of word problems, puzzles, games, and other projects that kids could do just with pencil/paper, access to the internet, etc. but without having to install special programs on their computers. We will include a more complex set of activities that require installing programs so that kids can get a more in depth understanding of a topic through longer-term exploration. Finally, we will include an updated Roadshow presentation as well as a list of resources for students and parents to learn more about opportunities in computer science (including FIRST robotics leagues, CS summer programs like Andrew's Leap, etc).

The activities will include basic concepts in computer science such as algorithms, programming languages, and computer architecture to start with. All activities will come with an explanation of the CS concept and how it relates to the project as well as how the concept relates to other things that kids would be familiar with, or learning about, in school. We will also include projects based on current research in the core areas and applications related to areas children might be learning in school including algorithms and word problems, networks and the internet, linguistics, robotics, artificial intelligence, and user interfaces. We will pull together activities that we have used in our outreach programs but we will also ask for input from current undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and possibly alums to share their ideas for activities that teach concepts of interest to them. Current activities include an explanation on binary and writing your name in binary (Creative Technology Nights), puzzles and algorithms like making a peanut and jelly sandwich (Tom Cortina's "Principles of Computation"), and circuit design (Creative Technology Nights).

We will make the resource available on the web for anyone to download at any time. Also, we will have printed bound copies to have at outreach events and for teachers when we do roadshows.