Women in computer science attend Grace Hopper Conference

by Vivek Hazari | 10/9/18 2:30pm

The Thayer School of Engineering and the College’s department of computer science sponsored 25 students’ attendance at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computer Science from Sept. 26 to 28, providing women in computer science opportunities for networking, professional development and recruitment.

The Anita Borg Foundation created the conference with the goal of helping women in tech connect with each other and to help create equality in the field of technology. According to the foundation’s website, this is a part of the foundation’s larger mission to foster the community for women in computing that computer scientist Anita Borg helped create.

The Grace Hopper Conference is the largest of its kind, attracting over 20,000 attendees and internationally renowned speakers like Priscilla Chan, co-founder of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; Emily Chang, anchor and executive producer of “Bloomberg Technology” and Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX.

Computer science professor Thomas Cormen has made attending this conference a reality for students for several years — Dartmouth women have been attending the conference since 2012. He said it was an excellent opportunity for students to grow as professionals and for Dartmouth’s community of women in computer science to grow.

“It’s great because everybody gets to know someone from the Dartmouth group better,” he said.

Linda Xiao ’20, a computer science major and Grace Hopper attendee, said that during her time at Dartmouth, she had not faced overt exclusion as a women in a male-dominated field. However, Xiao said that her more advanced computer science classes could be almost entirely male at times, adding that it can be alienating to be the only girl in a class and not know anyone well.

Talking about her experience at Grace Hopper, she said, “You’re just surrounded by people interested in the same things you are and encouraging each other.”

Ijemma Onwuzulike ’19, who is also majoring in computer science and attended the conference, explained how, as a senior, the conference provided her the opportunity to connect with employers to find jobs after college.

“This was the first time I started looking at smaller companies,” Onwuzulike said. “Google, Facebook, Amazon, they provide some kind of job security, but for me I wanted something high impact, something I know people would be using.”

She added that the conference’s size and focus on women let her connect with someone whose specific work in processing sign language beyond ASL aligned with her Japanese language and culture minor.

“Going to Grace Hopper, I found talking to other women about why they were going to grad school, or why they wanted a Ph.D.,” Onwuzulike said. “It was a more personal experience.”

Taking the trip through Dartmouth allowed her to connect with other women in the computer science department that she hadn’t met before or hadn’t talked to much, and the Grace Hopper conference helped act as a shared experience for the Dartmouth women in computer science, Onwuzulike said.

Speaking more broadly about the department, Cormen explained how there has been a push to modernize and foster success for all.

“It’s not just women, it’s a matter of underrepresented groups,” he said. He acknowledged the fact that the computer science department has historically been male dominated, but noted there have been recent developments to increase diversity within their staff.

“We’ve added four new faculty this year alone, and one of them is a woman of color,” Cormen said.

Additionally, the computer science department tenured computer science professor Xia Zhou, its first first female computer science professor to receive tenure starting from the position of assistant professor, last year.

Sending students to the Grace Hopper Conference is part of a larger push at Dartmouth to help create equity in the field, Cormen said. However, despite female students performing equally well, if not exceeding the caliber of male students in computer science, there will exist a need for programs like the Grace Hopper Conference for a long time, he added.