Colgate @ Grace Hopper 2016

From left: Stephanie Tortora ’17, Prof. Madeline E. Smith, Prof. Aaron Gember-Jacobson, Bria Vicenti ’17, Lauren Henske ’20, and Zoila Rodriguez ’18 representing Colgate Computer Science at the 2016 Grace Hopper Celebration in Houston, TX.

Six members of the Colgate University Computer Science Department recently traveled to Houston, TX to participate in the 2016 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. Students Lauren Henske ’20, Zoila Rodriguez ’18, Stephanie Tortora ’17, and Bria Vicenti ’17 and Professors Aaron Gember-Jacobson and Madeline E. Smith were among nearly 15,000 attendees of the conference this year.

GHC 2016 Opening Plenary from my seat at the Toyota Center in Houston, TX

The three-day conference celebrates the contributions made by women to the computing field and is named after Rear Admiral Dr. Grace Hopper. Nicknamed “Amazing Grace,” Hopper earned a PhD in mathematics from Yale University and was a professor at Vassar College before joining the U.S. Naval Reserve during WWII. At that time, computer code could only be run on the specific computer it was written for. Hopper invented the compiler, a special program that translates code so it can be run on different types of computers.

Started in 1994, the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) has grown to an annual conference attended by thousands of students and professionals in the computing field. The conference features keynote presentations, technical and research presentations, professional development sessions, networking events, and a career fair.

Thank you to travel grants and scholarships that allowed us to attend the conference, including: Colgate Center for Learning, Teaching, & Research, CRA-W GHC Research Scholars Program, Anita Borg Institute GHC Scholarship, Google GHC Travel Grant, and Colgate Department of Computer Science.

Trip Highlights:

  • “Getting to meet all the other, specifically female, students and professionals in a field I’m so interested in. It was an amazing hub of like-minded people who understand both my passion for computer science, and what it means to be a woman in computer science and the challenges associated with that.” -Lauren Henske ‘20
  • “My favorite part of GHC was getting to meet fellow women in the industry as well as just generally being present with such a large group of empowered, powerful, smart women.” -Bria Vicenti ‘17
  • “Being in an environment where you are in the minority is a very humbling experience — there were 14,000 women and only 1,000 men at GHC. I was continuously reminded of the things I sometimes take for granted being a man in computer science. It motivated me to really think carefully about how we can encourage and support more women to feel welcome in the computer science community at Colgate and beyond.” — Prof. Aaron Gember-Jacobson
  • “I ran into two students from Ithaca College (my alma mater) during the opening keynote. It turned out that one of the students is continuing to work on the same research project I worked on as an undergraduate student at IC seven years ago. She actually recognized my name on my conference badge from comments in the code I had written when I worked on that project. It was amazing to literally bump into someone you are connected to in a crowd that large. It really goes to show that even though the computing community is so large, it’s still a small world after all.” -Prof. Madeline E. Smith
Alex DiStasi (Ithaca College), Prof. Madeline E. Smith, Carrie Lindeman (Ithaca College)

Favorite Conference Sessions:

  • “A presentation on Google X’s Project Loon that’s working on putting balloons with cellular radios in the stratosphere as a way to provide internet services to rural areas of developing countries.” -Prof. Gember-Jacobson
  • “I really enjoyed listening to the opening keynote and seeing such accomplished women speak about their work.” -Bria Vicenti ‘17
  • “I attended an interesting presentation about research from the BRAID (Building, Recruiting And Inclusion for Diversity) Initiative. The researchers are surveying students in computer science courses across the country to learn in order to identify ways we can better support students from underrepresented groups in our classes. This motivated me to start a conversation on this topic with other faculty members in the Colgate Computer Science Department.” -Prof. Smith
  • “One of my favorite parts of the Grace Hopper Celebration was a Gaming, Graphics and Animation Panel called, “Stars Wars, Inside Out and Zootopia: You Need Code for that?” It was a great talk about the inner works of an animation film and it was really inspiration of to hear from women who work in the Pixar, Walt Disney and DreamWorks company.” -Zoila Rodriguez ‘18

Lessons Learned:

  • “I learned some concrete steps I can take to be a male ally for the women in my department and classes. For example, I can repeat an important point made by a woman at a meeting and give her credit — a strategy known as amplification.” -Prof. Gember-Jacobson
  • “I went to this really amazing talk about harnessing the power of being an introvert. It didn’t have a lot to do with computer science, but it had a lot to do with being a leader in your work environment. I don’t personally consider myself much of an introvert, but I learned a lot about how the standard business environment caters to the qualities of an extrovert more that an introvert. I am a lot more aware of unintentionally expecting people to conform to the what I have been told to ‘expect’ from a leader.” -Lauren Henske ‘20
  • “I discovered at the career fair that there are a lot of opportunities available to me in tech that I didn’t necessarily know about coming from a more general liberal arts computer science curriculum — I’m so excited about the possibilities that lie ahead of me.” -Bria Vicenti ‘17
  • “I learned about online resources I can use to help students in my Computer Science classes here at Colgate.” -Prof. Smith

Connections Made / People Met:

  • “I met an amazing recruiter from Bank of America who I talked to for almost 30 minutes about the importance of having a well-rounded education. I’m a freshman and haven’t declared my major yet, but I am planning on majoring in computer science and some other mystery humanity that has yet to be determined. She really instilled a lot of confidence in me about my decision to do that and how that will make me a unique candidate when I go job-hunting down the road.” -Lauren Henske ‘20
  • “I met Suzanne Parete-Koon who is working with astrophysicists at Oak Ridge National Lab to efficiently analyze petabytes of modeling data.“ -Prof. Gember-Jacobson
  • “I met a product designer at Yelp who I intend to stay in contact with in the long term — she offered to take me under her wing to help me break into more design-oriented positions, and I’m so excited to have her as a mentor in the coming year.” -Bria Vicenti ‘17
  • “I met Natalie Villalobos, Google’s Head of Global Programs. Natalie is an inspiring woman who runs the Women Techmakers program which provides visibility, community, and resources for women in technology. The program provides scholarships to women studying Computer Science and organizes events for technical women to connect with one another throughout the year and around the world.” -Prof. Smith
Photo Booth at the Google Women Techmakers Party; from left: Katherine Lo (UC-Irvine), Alexa Herasimchuk (Yelp!), Prof. Madeline E. Smith, Bria Vicenti ’17, Liza McPherson (Harvard)

Most Fun Part of the Conference:

  • “Definitely getting all the free stuff at the career fair!” -Lauren Henske ‘20
  • “Connecting with prior students and peers who are now excelling in various technical roles in industry.” -Prof. Gember-Jacobson
  • “How exciting it is to be amongst so many people that are supportive of your pursuits, which is really unbelievable.” -Stephanie Tortora ‘17
  • “Getting so much awesome #swag and running into a friend from summer camp I haven’t seen in 5 years, who was attending the conference with her own Women in Computer Science group.” -Bria Vicenti ‘17
  • “Dance parties — that definitely does not happen at any other of the other conferences I go to!” -Prof. Smith
  • “The most fun thing about the conference was being able to surround myself with people who have been or currently are in my position and learn about how they got overcame obstacles. It was great to hear from the different people that came to the conference.” -Zoila Rodriguez ‘18

Who should attend GHC?:

  • “Though the conference is catered towards girls, I think it could be beneficial for anyone passionate about computing. In particular, the career fair is really helpful if you are in search of a computer science internship.” -Lauren Henske ‘20
  • “Students who want to learn more about the enormous breadth of things you can do as a computer scientist.” -Prof. Gember-Jacobson
  • “Anyone and everyone who can!” -Bria Vicenti ‘17
  • “Any woman in computing or ally who supports women in computing would benefit from attending GHC. It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn about new areas of computer science research, learn new technical skills, get useful career advice, make connections with others in the field, and even interview for internships and full-time jobs!” -Prof. Smith
  • “Anyone and everyone should attend the Grace Hopper Celebration next year, especially any of the sophomore and junior female students in the computer science department. This conference was not only a great event to network but also to learn about the various opportunities in the vast Computer Science field.” -Zoila Rodriguez ‘18
Connecting with old friends at the Google Women Techmakers Party; from left: Katherine Lo, Prof. Madeline E. Smith, Bria Vicenti ’17, Liza McPherson (Photo by Alexa Herasimchuk)