Northeastern appoints Carla Brodley as Dean of Inclusive Computing


Photo courtesy Northeastern University

Ethan Wayne, news staff

The Office of the Provost announced Dec. 7 that Carla Brodley, dean of the Khoury College of Computer Sciences, has been appointed as the inaugural Dean of Inclusive Computing at the Northeastern Center for Inclusive Computing

The Center will focus on bringing women and other people from underrepresented demographics into computer science. According to the Office of the Provost, since joining Northeastern in 2014, Brodley has overseen the increase of female representation in the undergraduate computer science program to 30%, over 10% higher than the national average for female professionals in the computer science field. Additionally, rates of Black, Latinx, Pacific Islander and Native American students have increased to 14% across the program. 

Brodley works with colleges and universities worldwide like Columbia University and the University of Texas at Austin. When members of these institutions write letters of interest, she coordinates initiatives and programs to increase diversity. 

The Center provides millions of dollars worth of grants to aid schools in analyzing data and correcting systemic issues. 

“We award two types of grants,” Brodley said. The first is a data grant to support the university collecting and analyzing their data to figure out if and where they have a retention problem for underrepresented groups. For schools that have correctly analyzed where they might have a retention issue, we give out large awards to enable them to make systemic change.” 

Brodley said that influencing a school’s admissions process directly through affirmative action is not a long-term solution to increasing diversity.  

“It’s not fair to other people and it doesn’t help the national problem,” she said. “At Khoury, we admit students in proportion to how they apply in terms of demographics. The center is not trying to solve Northeastern’s problem; we’re solving the nation’s problem.”

Brodley has spent much of her time at the Khoury College of Computer Sciences using Northeastern’s resources to theorize and test ways to combat discrimination. 

“One of the things that’s worked so well here in terms of broadening participation in computer science — and I like to think of it is that it’s broadened both the demographic diversity and the thought diversity — is our combined majors,” she said. 

To Brodley’s delight, the Center for Inclusive Computing will continue to be housed on Northeastern’s campus.

“I think that it was, in particular, the last year that really pointed out to me that [increasing diversity] is where my heart lies … so I’m not going anywhere. I love Northeastern,” Brodley said.

The Office of the Provost has assembled a committee to search for Brodley’s replacement and will seek out an interim appointee until that replacement has been hired. 

Brodley added that it was challenging to step down from her position because she loves Khoury College, but she is looking forward to helping in the transition.  

“I’ve poured my heart into it, I’ve never worked as hard as I have for the last six and a half years,” Brodley said.  “I’m still working incredibly hard because there’s so many things that I still want to do.”

Alan Mislove, professor of computer science and associate dean of faculty at Khoury, echoed how influential Brodley’s leadership has been and expressed his bittersweet feelings about her new appointment.

“She’s been a fantastic leader within Khoury, but she is staying at the University and I’m excited to see the good things she’s been doing here replicated at other places,” Mislove said. “I’ve really enjoyed working with her.” 

Tara Sawhney, a third-year data science and business administration combined major, transferred to Khoury College largely because of the data science course. She feels that there’s still room for more female representation and support of female students. 

“The data science classes I’ve taken have definitely been…very male-dominated and I really feel like a lot of girls haven’t had a lot of support,” Sawhney said. “There’s still work to be done.” 

Despite this, Sawhney reflected on the strong bond between female students. “We [support] each other because it’s such a difficult field to be in,” she said.

Brodley will assume her position as Dean of Inclusive Computing July 1, 2021. The new Khoury College dean has not yet been officially appointed.

There was one piece of advice in particular that she had for Northeastern students who were hesitant to enter computer science. 

“Don’t rule it out until you’ve tried it,” she said. “We have a really easy way for you to try it and it’s [a class] called Data Science 2000…it allows you to see the relevance of computer science to your field.”

Brodley said that the motto of Khoury College of Computer Sciences is that computer science is for everyone both in terms of relevance to diverse disciplines and inclusivity. 

“Everybody should feel welcome,” she said. “[Computer science] is relevant to every discipline…it touches everyone and everything.”