Women’s computer science conference offers opportunity

This past week, several female RPI students, including myself, had the opportunity to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Baltimore, MD. The female-focused conference of technology, the largest of its kind, was a gathering of computer science’s best and brightest over a wide range of industries, from government research to academia to industry. In addition, many students, both undergraduate and graduate, from a wide array of schools were in attendance to learn about the innovative new discoveries being made in computer science by women today.

While I attended many of the various presentations during the course of the conference’s four days, one of the sessions that I found particularly interesting was focused on encouraging undergraduate women in computer science to get involved in research. The session focused both on the benefits for students in research, which include extra course credits, monetary compensation, and resume building, in addition to the various opportunities for students to find research with which to get involved. For those who were not in attendance, the National Science Foundation website is a great place to get started, as well as asking professors that you have taken classes with in the past about possible opportunities to work with them.

A plenary session worth note was moderated by RPI’s own Dr. Francine Berman. The session, “Technology in Government,” consisted of a panel of both men and women actively involved in computing in federal agencies. The agencies represented were the NSF, the National Institute of Health, the National Security Agency, and the Department of Defense. Each panelist spoke briefly about some of the important projects his or her agency is currently involved with and also invited attendees of the session to ask questions of their own to the panel. The theme of the discussion was two-fold: It iterated the critical importance of technological advancement in computing within the specific government agencies and also the necessity of further involvement, whether by research or employment, of talented computer scientists in the realm of government. After this session’s conclusion, I think I had a much clearer understanding of the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration between computer scientists and other researchers in furthering the quality of life and general security of the American people.

Probably the most noteworthy element of Grace Hopper, besides, of course, discussions with some of the amazingly accomplished women I met, was the career fair. The fair, which spanned three days total, had over 110 companies in attendance actively recruiting, including such big names in the industry such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple. As impressed as I was with RPI’s fall National Society of Black Engineers/Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Career Fair, Grace Hopper’s was definitely much more extensive for computer science majors. In addition, a nice touch was having the opportunity to interview on the spot in provided interview booths.

In conclusion, Grace Hopper was an extremely valuable experience. I met several new contacts that I hope will be new mentors for me as I progress along my studies of computer science. In addition, it was awe-inspiring to see how far women have come in a predominantly male field and how supportive they are of each other’s struggles and successes. I definitely hope to be able to attend the conference again next year, and I would encourage any female computer science student to do the same.