This semester, the College of Engineering & Applied Science’s Computer Science Department sent a record 25 female undergraduate and graduate students to the annual Grace Hopper Celebration, the world’s largest conference for women in technology. The event, held Oct. 2-4 in Orlando, drew 25,000 individuals and 400 companies.
The UWM group – under the direction of Christine Cheng, associate professor, computer science, and Susan McRoy, professor, computer science—included students in Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Biomedical and Health Informatics, Applied Math and Computer Science, and Information Science and Technology.
Supporting student attendance at Grace Hopper is one of the ways in which the Computer Science Department supports women in computing, Cheng says.
“The students enjoyed a lot of success at the job fair. Half of them interviewed on site and seven were offered jobs or internships on the spot. Other students received offers after we returned to Milwaukee,” Cheng says. Offers included those from Northrup Grumman and Microsoft. Students not seeking jobs attended sessions, choosing from dozens of workshops, mentoring circles, panel discussions and more.
Attendance at Grace Hopper is about more than getting a job, says Cheng. It’s about support, encouragement and empowerment. “My students are minorities in the classroom, but at this conference they see thousands of other women interested in technology and listen to talks by CEOs who started their own companies. They hear real-life stories about the hurdles some women overcame. Participating in Grace Hopper makes them more ambitious.”
As faculty members, McRoy and Cheng also use the event as an opportunity to learn more about what employers see as valuable to improving students’ skills. Several mentioned good communication and creativity – as evidenced by participation in local hackathons or project presentations, McRoy says.
Financial support for attendance at Grace Hopper comes through the BRAID (Building, Recruiting and Inclusion for Diversity) program of AnitaB.Org, a non-profit institute that aims to recruit, retain and advance women in technology. The BRAID funds support diversity initiatives in the Computer Science Department.