The Grant that Keeps on Giving

Professor works to close the digital divide for underserved students

Michael A. Palis, Rutgers University in Camden interim vice chancellor for research and university professor of computer science in the Camden College of Arts and Sciences, knows that one of the most effective ways to close the digital divide is to build bridges for students traditionally underrepresented in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and math. That understanding earned him a $600,000 National Science Foundation grant and led to the STEM Scholars Program, which supported need-based scholarships for students pursuing a STEM major at Rutgers–Camden. In the years since the program's launch, the university has embraced a wider array of initiatives promoting access and diversity in STEM.

"Creating opportunities for students to pursue their dreams in the STEM fields, especially students from underrepresented groups, is essential to feeding the pipeline and ensuring that we are leveraging today’s technologies to develop more impactful technology in the future,” Palis said. “Providing opportunities for diverse perspectives creates an environment where everyone thrives.”

Michael A. Palis, professor of computer science and interim vice chancellor for research

Michael A. Palis, professor of computer science and interim vice chancellor for research

The data demonstrates that the STEM Scholars Program had a meaningful impact, particularly for minority students and students of color. The number of STEM majors at Rutgers–Camden grew by 11 percent, and STEM graduates grew by an astonishing 91 percent. Palis said Rutgers–Camden has continued coordinating efforts to support STEM students, especially those from underrepresented groups.

“The STEM departments must work in conjunction with student-centered offices, such as Enrollment Management and Student Academic Success, as well as the Office of Civic Engagement to develop an institutional-wide integrated strategy to effect genuine and sustainable change that will allow undergraduate students to excel in STEM and graduate from college well prepared for the workforce or to pursue advanced degrees,” Palis said.

According to Palis, there are several emerging technologies that can lead to exciting careers for graduating Rutgers–Camden students:

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

"AI is currently being used in transportation, manufacturing, and healthcare, and it's driving advances in other emerging technologies, including big data, robotics, and the Internet of Things (IoT),” Palis said. Because many AI applications rely on machine learning algorithms and large data sets to make predictions, he noted that taking steps to counteract incorrect, biased, or offensive responses is critical.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

“Already, IoT – essentially network connectivity to physical objects and everyday devices – has given rise to innovative applications in various sectors, including healthcare, industrial automation, smart buildings and homes, transportation, entertainment, and wearable devices,” Palis said. He emphasized that technology companies must work collaboratively to address incompatibility issues, promote open-source development and address security concerns for IoT to have a genuine impact.

Gene Editing Technologies

"Gene editing technologies were used to create coronavirus detection tests and have the potential to revolutionize medicine, especially in treating genetic diseases," Palis said. Although many countries have passed laws to ban human genome editing, he believes the technology still holds tremendous promise as a potential tool to accelerate research into critical diseases such as cancer.

“Technology will fundamentally change our world in the coming decades – it already has,” Palis said. "But Rutgers–Camden is up to the challenge and recognizes that providing students with opportunities to learn about emerging technologies, especially students traditionally underrepresented in the STEM fields, will help close the digital divide and lead to increased innovation and diversity of thought."

Rutgers University in Camden continues to recognize and celebrate our rich diversity. In recognition of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) Heritage Month, the Office of Marketing and Communications will present a monthlong series of stories showcasing the research, scholarship, and humanitarian efforts of our AA and NHPI faculty and students. Despite facing historical discrimination that persists to this day, these individuals draw inspiration from their heritage as they work to confront a variety of societal problems rooted in public policy, the physical sciences, technology, and more. 

Creative Design: Karaamat Abdullah

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