Inria@SiliconValley Interviews CITRIS Deputy Director Camille Crittenden

Inria@SiliconValley Interviews CITRIS Deputy Director Camille Crittenden

Camille Crittenden, Ph.D. serves as Deputy Director of CITRIS and the Banatao Institute, Director of the CITRIS Connected Communities Initiative, and Executive Director of the CITRIS Social Apps Lab. Prior to coming to CITRIS in 2012, she was Executive Director of the Human Rights Center at Berkeley Law, where she helped to develop its program in human rights, technology, and new media. She has written and spoken widely on these topics, as well as technology applications for civic engagement, government transparency and accountability, and the digital divide. She held previous positions as Assistant Dean for Development with International and Area Studies at UC Berkeley and in development and public relations at University of California Press and San Francisco Opera. She earned an MA and Ph.D. from Duke University.

What is CITRIS and the Banatao Institute? What is your role?

The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute create information technology solutions for society’s most pressing challenges. As a multi-campus research institute of the University of California (UC), CITRIS and the Banatao Institute leverage the research strengths of UC Berkeley, Davis, Merced, and Santa Cruz, and operate within the greater ecosystem of the University and the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley. The institute was created by the California state legislature in 2001 to shorten the pipeline between world-class laboratory research and the development of applications, platforms, companies, and even new industries. CITRIS facilitates interdisciplinary work among hundreds of UC faculty members, students, corporate partners, and international institutions like Inria.

The CITRIS invention ecosystem includes competitive seed funding; specialized testbeds and laboratories; a maker space for student-led projects; and a startup accelerator, the CITRIS Foundry. Our research initiatives address a range of fields, all through the lens of information technology: sustainable infrastructures (energy, water, and transportation systems); civic engagement and connected communities; the interaction between people and robots, including machine learning, Artificial Intelligence, and automation; and health. The Banatao Institute has a distinct but related charter to co-design and apply these advances in developing regions or for under-served populations, in the United States and abroad.

I serve as Deputy Director of CITRIS and the Banatao Institute and also direct the Connected Communities Initiative. I work closely with the faculty leaders on the four CITRIS campuses and faculty directors of the research initiatives to manage and support their vision for the programs they lead, including securing financial support from UC and external sources.

What is CITRIS’s membership program and how important is it for CITRIS, especially in its international dimension?

The CITRIS Membership program offers a way for companies and academic research partners to engage with CITRIS faculty, staff, and students to pursue topics of mutual interest. We have seen important advances emerge from such collaborations, especially where external funds have allowed faculty members to hire students and explore new areas in a focused way. We especially appreciate working with CITRIS’s international partners, which include research institutions, universities, and companies in Denmark, France, Italy, Mexico, Singapore, China, and the Philippines. Each of the contexts brings a unique opportunity for learning about the work of colleagues abroad and the needs their programs seek to fulfill.

How do you view the partnership with Inria?

The relationship with Inria is one of CITRIS’s longest-running and most productive partnerships since our research institutes share interests in creating social benefit through advancing expertise in computer science. We have collaborated on various public programs, including a conference on “Who Owns the Data?” in May 2015. The Social Apps Lab at CITRIS has also been a long-term collaborator with Inria to develop online platforms for democratic governance and civic engagement. AppCivist is a recent example; it received funding from EIT Digital to develop a version for deployment in France and Vallejo, California, to enable city-level participatory budgeting. We look forward to continued partnership to expand this platform and look for additional areas of mutual interest.

In October 2016, you organized the event on “Women in Technology: Recognizing Leaders, Inspiring the Next Generation” when you presented the inaugural CITRIS Athena Awards. Could you say a few words about it?

The gender gap in computer science and engineering has become increasingly stark at all levels of education and professional life. The field is missing out on contributions that women could be making to innovation and knowledge creation. At the same time, women are being excluded, deliberately or not, from promising career tracks that would allow them to pursue these interests and achieve professional success. The event we hosted in October, together with the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity and other co-sponsors, aimed to highlight women who have become leaders in their fields, whether in academia, industry, startups or the public sector. The Athena Awards attracted more than 100 nominations from around the world for individuals worthy of recognition as senior mentors and promising early-career researchers, as well as programs that nurture interests in technology among girls and young women.

What steps do you recommend to promote gender diversity in the STEM fields?

Initiatives are needed at all levels, starting even before girls reach school age, to ensure they feel just as supported and capable of excelling in math and science as boys. Research shows that women often become engaged and persist in technical fields when they see the potential for social impact. This is where CITRIS can make a contribution, by showing young women how advances in engineering, information technology, and computer science can be applied to fields like environmental sustainability, healthcare, robotics, and civic engagement. Over the next few months, we will be considering how best to build on the momentum of the fall conference and seek to create a more permanent mechanism for supporting late-stage graduate students, postdocs, and alumnae going into academia, industry, startups, and the public sector. We welcome the collaboration of Inria and other partners!

Interview by Valérie Issarny

More information about CITRIS and the Banatao Institute: