by Briana Baier, Elizabeth Ehrhardt, April Pivonka, Kathryn Lynch and Arianna Varano
Briana Baier and Liz Ehrhardt (Computer Science): In October, we attended the McNulty Scholars Program weekly seminar and met Dr. Sorelle Friedler, Associate Professor of Computer Science from Haverford College. She presented a detailed overview of her work and research entitled Fairness and Abstraction: algorithmic discrimination and attempts to address it, which looks at how implicit biases can unintentionally be incorporated into the application of algorithms in parts of our lives. This can be seen in the application of an algorithm to determine the risk of re-offense of an arrested individual. Dr. Friedler has worked dynamically with people of other disciplines, such as law and politics, in order to provide a more in-depth understanding of what causes algorithm bias and what can be done to prevent or fix the biases that occur. While the nature of the presentation was based on machine learning, we were also very intrigued to see how Dr. Friedler incorporated concern for the ideas of fairness and human dignity to research something beyond the pure numeric lens of Computer Science.
April Pivonka (Biology): This September, I attended the with the McNulty Scholars Program’s weekly seminar with guest speaker Erica J Graham, Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Bryn Mawr College. Her presentation was entitled Math Imitates Life: insights from modeling, and her focus is applied mathematics and mathematical biology. As an undergraduate, she was a math major and earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in this discipline. However, during this time, she developed an interest in the biological processes of the body. Dr. Graham was able to merge her two passions by utilizing mathematical modeling to describe real-life situations. In her research, she examined the formation of blood clots in the vascular system and their treatment with medicine such as warfarin. She created a mathematical model to determine the effectiveness of these drugs and assess situations where blood clots still occurred even after drug administration. Dr. Graham also discussed her other research project which focuses on the relationship between high testosterone levels, ovulatory function and polycystic ovarian syndrome. As a whole, Dr. Graham’s presentation offered insightful explanations of her research and expanded my knowledge of both biological and mathematical processes.
Katie Lynch (Mathematics): My favorite McNulty event is the annual McNulty Scholars Reception every fall. It is a wonderful occasion to meet and talk with representatives from the McNulty Foundation, as well as alumnae from the McNulty Scholars Program. The weekly seminars are enriching and relevant, but it is always encouraging to hear from women who used to be in the same position that I am right now. This year, we heard from two recent graduates from the Program who are now pursuing their careers. They discussed some of the challenges they have faced as women in STEM-related fields, and gave some very useful and encouraging advice to current undergraduates. The McNulty Program is truly special in all aspects, especially through mentorship. It is not always the case that young women pursuing careers in STEM have full support and resources, so it’s really an honor to be a part of such a wonderful network.
Arianna Varano (Biology): At the end of October, I had the pleasure of attending a presentation by Dr. Sorelle Friedler from the Department of Computer Science at Haverford College. Every Wednesday, all of the McNulty Scholars meet for weekly seminars (and pizza!), and often we are visited by guest speakers. As a biology major, I rarely hear about research in other areas of STEM, so I was particularly interested in Dr. Friedler’s research studying the bias that can be unintentionally built into algorithms used in areas such as our criminal justice system. The McNulty seminars are a great way to learn about fields outside my major and decompress with my friends at the same time!