Computer Science Conference Supports Women in the Field

Grace Hopper posterMany great learning experiences take place outside the classroom. This certainly proved to be the case for nine Computer Science students who recently traveled to Baltimore, Maryland, to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference.

The three-day conference brought together more than 3,500 women, including more than 1,500 students, to foster networking and mentoring for women in computing.

For each of the William and Mary students who attended this year’s conference, the experience offered valuable insight into their current interests and future goals.

“The conference totally changed the way I think about computer science,” says Aslyn Blohm ’14, who is a double major in Math and Computer Science. “Going into it without having taken too many computer science classes, I was nervous that I would feel out of place. But instead, I think I found my niche. While walking around the career fair, I discovered that I'm really interested in software development and that I want to be working on products that are going to affect lots of people. Before the conference, I had no idea what I wanted.”

For Rebecca Roberts ’13, the experience offered a fresh perspective on the role of women in the field.

“Before the conference, I never really thought about the role of women in computer science, and just thought of everyone in the same light,” says Roberts, also a double major in Math and Computer Science. “The conference highlighted how important it is to get women more involved in technical roles. It helped me really look at my role as a woman in computer science. I knew that I wanted to be a software developer before the conference, and the conference helped affirm my decision and allowed me to see all the different options available for someone in the role.”

Computer Science graduate students Victoria Cooper and Robin Givens found that the conference strengthened their desires to teach. Professor Weizhen Mao with William and Mary students Robin Givens, Corynne Dech, Shannon Hughes, Victoria Cooper, Carolyn McKenna, Jessica Chen, Aslyn Blohm, Brittany Reynoso, and Rebecca Roberts

“The conference was a confirmation that I should stay in academia,” says Givens. “A large part of the conference is a career fair directed mostly toward industry or attracting graduate students. It was fun and a good experience, but it made me feel stronger in my current pursuit.”

Co-founded by Anita Borg and Telle Whitney in 1994, the conference was inspired by the legacy of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, a visionary and pioneer in system design and programming. Conference presenters are leaders in their respective fields, representing industry, academia, and government. Attendees can chose from many different tracks geared toward their interests and experience.

“Everyone I met, men and women, was excited to be there and supporting women in technical fields,” says Roberts.

“This was my second time at the conference, and really the transformative part of the experience was seeing how small and closely knit the community of Women in Computing is,” says Jessica Chen ’14, a Computer Science major. “I saw many people I had met before, or worked with previously, and it really helped me realize how supportive the community is – we're not just a demographic in the field.”

All the William and Mary attendees would encourage others to explore the field.

“The career is great for women right now,” says Blohm.”If you love it, then you shouldn't let anything stop you from doing it. The elation you feel when you figure out how to solve a problem you've been beating your head against – well, that feeling can't be beat.”

“There are plenty of opportunities,” says Chen. “Though initially it may be a bit scary, it's one of the few fields, I think, where you can easily become part of a global community without feeling overwhelmed.”