The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force presents Excellence in STEM, with Dr. Grace Lewis, Principal Researcher at the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute (SEI).
In this interview, Dr. Lewis shares her challenges coming to the United States from Colombia to pursue her graduate education, and being expected to prove that her education and experience were just as good as anyone else’s.
Keep reading for more moments and insight from Dr. Grace Lewis.
Why Did You Choose Your Current Technical Field?
Dr. Grace Lewis When I started high school, I thought that I wanted to study Chemistry. However, in my Junior year, our school got a computer lab, and I signed up for the programming class. That changed everything. From then on, I knew that I wanted to build software. It was the perfect combination of logic and creativity.
What does a typical day or week look like for you as a Software Engineering Researcher?
Dr. Grace Lewis I do research in software engineering, but I also lead a team of software engineers and researchers. I try to balance my days between the two as much as possible. As a researcher, in addition to conducting research, I also have to ensure that our research results are known and can be applied in practice. I also need to secure funding so that the research can be continued and evolved. As a team lead, I have to set a strategy, make sure that all team members have all the resources that they need to do their work, and provide an environment where everyone feels safe, welcome, and above all, happy.
What’s been your greatest professional challenge as a member of the Latino community, and how did you overcome it?
Dr. Grace Lewis I am a first-generation American, born to parents from Colombia. For family reasons, I moved to Colombia as a Junior in high school and lived there for 13 years. I did my undergraduate studies in Colombia and came back to the US for graduate school. The greatest professional challenge has been needing to prove that my education was just as good as anybody else’s, that my professional experience had been just as challenging and rich as anybody else’s. Unfortunately, it has been my experience that in the US, not many people know much about the world outside the US. Overcoming this was easy because all I had to do was show them what I could do. I also took the time to talk to them about Colombia, show them pictures, and start opening their eyes to the Latino world.
What is one piece of advice you can give Latino students and/or early career professionals?
Dr. Grace Lewis Be proud of your Latino heritage. Embrace the fact that you speak two languages. Find opportunities where you can use your Latino heritage, professionally or personally, to help the community, create awareness, break stereotypes, and connect people and organizations.
What would you consider are Hispanic traits or behaviors instilled by your family that have made you successful?
Dr. Grace Lewis My family taught me that you have to work hard to get where you want to be, and not shy away from challenges. This was key for me, moving from the US to Colombia as a teenager and back to the US as a professional and starting over again. This is something that I have also passed on to my children, and hope it will help them as much as it has helped me.
What do you miss from your country of origin?
Dr. Grace Lewis Food, family, and people. Moving from the US to Colombia as a teenager was challenging, but being close to family and just feeling the warmth and kindness of everyone around me made it so much easier. Finally, the first Colombian restaurant opened up in Pittsburgh, and I am a big fan!
About Dr. Grace Lewis:
Grace Lewis is a Principal Researcher at the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute (SEI) where she conducts applied research on how software engineering and software architecture principles, practices and tools need to evolve in the face of emerging technologies. She is the principal investigator for the Automating Mismatch Detection and Testing in Machine Learning Systems project that is developing toolsets to support these two activities, in addition to other projects that are advancing the state of the practice in software engineering for machine learning (SE4ML). Grace is also the lead for the Tactical and AI-Enabled Systems (TAS) applied research and development team at the SEI that is creating and transitioning innovative solutions, principles, and best practices for architecting and developing systems to support teams operating at the tactical edge in resource-constrained environments, engineering AI software systems, and using AI/ML at the edge for improved capabilities and mission support. She is currently VP of the IEEE Computer Society Technical & Conference Activities Board (T&C), Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Vice-Chair for the IEEE Computer Society Technical Community on Software Engineering (TCSE), Alternate Representative for IEEE-CS on the ABET CSAB Board of Directors, as well as an ABET Evaluator for Computer Science undergraduate programs. Grace holds a B.Sc. in Software Systems Engineering and a Post-Graduate Specialization in Business Administration from Icesi University in Cali, Colombia; a Master in Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University; and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.