Oct 18, 2017 By Victoria Grdina
A group of Computer Science and Engineering students and faculty members spent the first week of October attending the 2017 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Orlando, Florida.
The Grace Hopper Conference is a three-day convention filled with prestigious speakers, networking events, and professional development activities. Produced by the Anita Borg Institute in partnership with ACM, it’s the world’s largest technical conference for women in computing.
This is the fourth year that students from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln have attended the conference as part of the BRAID (Building, Recruiting And Inclusion for Diversity) project. Sophomore software engineering major Jasmine Boyer said the opportunity to meet so many other women in her field was an exciting and inspiring experience.
“It’s me and three other girls in the software engineering major…so it was just crazy being around so many intelligent women at one time,” Boyer said. “I’d never been on a team of all women. That experience was awesome.”
About 20 CSE students attended the conference this year with department chair Matthew Dwyer and academic advisor Ann Koopmann. Students spent the trip attending keynote speeches, workshops, and several networking events, including the conference’s career Expo.
The Expo provided a rare opportunity for students to make connections with representatives from hundreds of companies, and even conduct on-site interviews while at the conference. Boyer was selected for three interviews with Bank of America, Visa, and American Express while at the conference — and was offered a second interview and position before she returned home.
Not only did the conference provide students the chance to network for career opportunities, but also to explore ones they hadn’t previously considered. In addition to speaking with employees from Microsoft and Spotify, sophomore Mickey Tran spoke to a researcher from the University of Maine whose work focused on human-computer interaction and geoscience technology, and combines both of Tran’s computer science and geography majors.
“Getting that personal advice and interaction with people from ‘big league’ companies and having them reassure me of my passions made the trip so much more amazing,” Tran said. “I’m now more excited than ever to continue my studies.”
Students also got to hear those stories in the keynote speeches from industry leaders, including Behshad Rejai, Vice President of Engineering at Synopsys. Rejai is also a Nebraska alumna, and took time out of her schedule to speak with CSE students in a smaller group. Seeing women like her in a successful role gave many of the students new perspective.
“When they were in school it was even less diverse than it is now,” Boyer said. “Seeing that they’ve gone all the way through and seeing what they’ve become — from being probably one of the only girls in their computer science department — it was very inspiring and very motivating.”
Boyer also said attending the conference has motivated her to continue to share her passion with more women. She plans to continue volunteering as a Girl Scout camp mentor, and is brainstorming ideas for hosting a coding info session with her sorority.
“It’s definitely made me have more of a drive to inspire other women to try it out,” said Boyer. “My friends say, ‘I don’t know how you do this. It looks so hard. It looks like jibberish on your computer.’ And I tell them, ‘If you just tried it, you could do it too.’”
Koopmann said she enjoyed seeing the renewed enthusiasm in the students and hopes more opportunities will help them channel it into practical application.
“It was such a joy to see them have those moments of, ‘I belong,’” Koopmann said. “It truly was an opportunity for them to realize that all the work that they’re putting in and all the dedication fits them and is going to pay off.”
And a sense of belonging is exactly what Tran found.
“The STEM field can be very intimidating, especially for women because of all the social pressure that may surround them,” Tran said. “Going to a conference like Grace Hopper reassured me that I am qualified for these positions, not because of my gender or biological makeup, but rather because I have the passion, drive, knowledge and skill levels for it.”
The 2018 Grace Hopper Conference will be held Sept. 26–28 in Houston, Texas. Students who wish to attend are encouraged to apply next spring.