Dr. Tiffany Barnes, Distinguished Professor of Computer Science at North Carolina State University, has been named the recipient of the 2022 Harrold and Notkin Research and Graduate Mentoring Award.
The award, sponsored by the NCWIT Board of Directors, recognizes faculty members from non-profit institutions who distinguish themselves with outstanding research and excellent graduate mentoring, as well as those who recruit, encourage, and promote women and minorities in computing fields. It is bestowed in memory of Mary Jean Harrold and David Notkin, in honor of their outstanding research, graduate mentoring, and diversity contributions.
After completing her Ph.D. in Computer Science at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in 2003, Dr. Barnes held roles as an Assistant and then Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), where she also served as Director of the Game Design and Development Program. In 2012, she returned to NCSU as a member of the Computer Science Department faculty.
Dr. Barnes’s efforts to improve the recruiting and retention of girls and women in computing date back to 1997, when she participated (as a graduate student) in writing the successful NSF-ITWF Girls on Track grant to run a year-round enrichment program centered on a summer camp designed to teach girls math concepts through solving urban and social problems.
Dr. Barnes has worked to design, implement, and evaluate the NSF-funded STARS Computing Corps (formerly called the STARS Alliance), which provides college and university computing faculty and students with a multi-year opportunity to serve as leaders and mentors to promote changes in the computing pipeline. The STARS program has been successful in raising students’ feelings of computing identity, interest in graduate programs in computing, and intention to remain in the field, which is an indicator of future behavior. Since 2006, STARS has scaled from 10 institutions to more than 50 institutions nationally, in a collective effort to address the need for recruiting and retaining students from groups that have historically been underrepresented in computing. She serves as Vice Chair of the STARS Executive Board.
Dr. Barnes also established the Game2Learn Research Lab at UNCC and NCSU, which investigates the use of games that teach computer science to improve recruiting, performance, and retention of diverse students. In 2012, the lab was moved from UNCC to the Center for Educational Informatics at NCSU. This program has engaged more than 100 advanced high school and undergraduate computing students in research. Dr. Barnes’ research has shown that the project recruits advanced students into graduate school, and that the games have the potential to support learning in introductory classes.
Dr. Barnes has a strong record of mentoring students throughout her career, particularly women students. She has mentored 16 graduated master’s students and 13 graduated Ph.D. students, and she has 13 current Ph.D. students. Of these 42 students, 19 are women, and the group also includes students with disabilities, Black and Hispanic women, Black men, LGBTQ students, and many students from underprivileged backgrounds. Dr. Barnes has also mentored six National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships (GRF) awardees, in addition to awardees from other organizations. She mentors many undergraduate students as well, and in 2016 she received the NCWIT Undergraduate Research Mentor Award for her outstanding work in this area.
Mehak Maniktala, a former Ph.D. advisee who nominated Dr. Barnes for the Harrold and Notkin award, notes that she “nurtures a culture around meaningful research projects with tiered mentoring, ensuring that every student works closely with a near-peer mentor. As we develop our skills, we meet with Dr. Barnes more frequently for advice and support. This culture provides students with a diverse network that allows them to develop leadership and mentoring skills while they receive the help they need, preparing them to be successful leaders and mentors later.”
Dr. Maniktala added that Dr. Barnes always had a clear purpose, “that we should all use our privileges and gifts to better the world and expand opportunities for others to engage in computer science.”
Aurora Peddycord-Liu, another former Ph.D. advisee, recalls learning a similar mantra from Dr. Barnes: “Being researchers, it’s a privilege to solve problems for a living; but it’s a responsibility to choose problems worth solving.” She cites as an example a summer project initiated by Dr. Barnes after meeting a police officer who wanted to help children who lacked access to a safe environment during summer break and were at risk of being recruited into gangs. Dr. Barnes led her students to launch the Bridge to Computing summer camp, a project that made a positive impact in the community and gained support from the Raleigh Police Department, local voluntary organizations, and industry sponsors.
Dr. Barnes’ additional awards and honors include being inducted into the NC State CSC Alumni Hall of Fame (2021), receiving the Most Receptive Undergraduate Professor Outside of the Classroom Award (2016), and receiving the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award (2009) for her novel work in using data and educational data mining to add intelligence to STEM learning environments.
She has been involved with the founding of three industry conferences: the STARS Celebration (2006), for college students and faculty who are interested in taking action to broaden participation in computing; Educational Data Mining (2008), an international forum for high-quality research that mines data sets to answer educational research questions that shed light on the learning process; and the RESPECT conference on Research on Equity and Sustained Participation in Engineering, Computing, and Technology (2015).
In recommending Dr. Barnes for this award, Dr. Veronica Cateté, research scientist and former Ph.D. advisee, wrote, “Dr. Barnes’ mentoring allowed me to excel as a leader developing skills needed to be my own researcher, design my own positions, and to carry on the research that interests me. I now set the example for young women and minorities in her lab and in K-12. I have seen my lab mates get the handholding they need, the paper reviews, and literature. I, on the other hand, had an anchor who could act as a sounding board to my own research adventure, keeping my best interests in mind, helping set work-life balance, and setting priorities. Bottom line, I would highly recommend Dr. Tiffany Barnes for this award, as she epitomizes Mary Jean Harrold’s ‘professional mom’ and David Notkin’s ‘graduating great students over research’ philosophies.”