This October, Twenty-Seven UT Dallas female Computer Science and Software Engineers and five UT Dallas CS faculty members, made their way to Houston, TX, for the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Technology (GHC) Conference. The GHC is designed to bring the research and career interests of women in computing into the spotlight.
Anita Borg Institute’s GHC conference was co-founded by Anita Borg and Telle Whitney in 1994, and was inspired by the legacy of computer scientist and U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper. The theme of this year’s conference was “Our Time to Lead,” with the focus on encouraging women to fully embrace opportunities to effect change and using connections and communities that they build and expand through the conference to provide mentorship, leadership, and opportunities for growth for women in technology. The conference is presented by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).
The GHC is the world’s largest technical conference for women in computing, and for many women who attended for the first time, this was the first time that they were exposed to so many female technologists who share the same interests, curiosities, and struggles. In 2014, nearly 8,000 people attended GHC from 65 countries. This year the event sold out of their 12,000 tickets in eight days (a 50% increase over last year).
In order for UT Dallas CS/SE students to attend, they had to first apply for the Anita Borg GHC Scholarship. Once they had completed that step, UT Dallas CS professors Drs. Pushpa Kumar, Janell Straach, and Linda Morales categorized the list of students based on criteria including campus involvement such as teaching at summer camps or tutoring. From there, the faculty members waited to hear which students were offered the Anita Borg GHC Scholarship Grant scholarships before providing financial support to UT Dallas CS. Subsequently, students not funded by the GHC conference were supported by departmental scholarships given by the UT Dallas CS department. CS/SE students that were offered the Anita Borg GHC Scholarship Grant included Vishwani Arora, Lauren Johnson, Vivien Ngo, Nazeera Siddiqui, and Elise Keller. Ms. Keller was offered both an Anita Borg GHC Scholarship Grant as well as a United Services Automobile Association (USAA) Scholarship. In addition to Ms. Keller, two additional UT Dallas CS/SE students, Nicole Montana and Esther Goldstein, were awarded scholarships from USAA.
UT Dallas CS Professors, Drs. Pushpa Kumar, Janell Straach, Linda Morales, Shyam Karrah, and Mary Jane Partain of the Living Learning Community (LLC) accompanied the students to the conference in Houston. The UT Dallas CS department was a conference sponsor and hosted a booth to talk to students interested in entering the graduate program at the UT Dallas CS department.
Over the course of 4 days, the students had the option of attending various workshops ranging from career presentations (e.g. Driving Success Through Innovation & Change) to presentations about emerging technology (e.g. “Emerging Technologies: An Inside Glimpse at the future.”). Students also were able to network and attend discussion panels throughout the conference. Several Fortune 500 companies set up booths during the career fair, providing attendees with informational handouts as well as holding interviews. Companies that attended the conference included Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, National Science Foundation (NSF), Twitter, and Raytheon.
The conference also featured a long list of prominent keynote speakers ranging from CEO’s to professors to students. Keynote speakers/honorees included Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, Megan Smith, United States Chief Technology Officer in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Hilary Mason, Founder of Fast Forward Labs, Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, and Janet George, chief data scientist for Big Data/Data Science and Cognitive Computing at SanDisk.
Many important issues were addressed during the conference. Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, spoke about the gender bias in the technology field, providing several examples including disparity in pay structures, the obstacles women face in negotiating, and cultural perceptions that cause women to be penalized for being aggressive. Sandberg founded LeanIn.Org to empower all women to achieve their ambitions. Susan Wojcicki, CEO of Youtube, expressed the importance of companies providing excellent employee maternity leave for increasing female employee retention. She also spoke about the importance of getting girls interested in technology and then keeping them interested. YouTube will be showing the documentary Code Girl in advance for free, as well as doing more to encourage young women in tech. “We have to make it our personal responsibility to show the next generation and current women that they belong in computer science, and with it they can change the world,” Wojcicki said.
Junia Valente, PhD candidate in Software Engineering at the UT Dallas CS department, competed in the ACM Student Research Competition and won 2nd prize with her research presentation titled “Trustworthy Attestation of Untrusted Sensors.” Junia proposed a new attestation protocol to detect replay-attacks on sensors that continuously perceive the physical environment and report readings to an external entity.
Dr. Janell Straach, a senior lecturer in the UT Dallas CS department and one of the organizers of the trip, attended the GHC in previous years saying “Each year I come back from the GHC re-energized and re-committed to do all I can to help our students. I see such a change in each of them, it is extremely rewarding. Several of our current activities came from GHC and are a direct result of students/faculty returning from GHC, including Women who Compute (WWC), the Grace Series, and the Techy Girls Camp. All these activities, clubs, and talks stem from the GHC.”
In total eighteen Undergraduate students, seven Graduate students, and two PhD students attended the conference, all studying at the UT Dallas CS department. Drs. Janell Straach, Pushpa Kumar, and Linda Morales organized the trip, with the assistance of Mary Vogel.
The key conference message in the words of Dr. Pushpa Kumar, a UT Dallas CS professor, “Be a change agent! If each woman in the field advocates for change then there is a tsunami of possibilities.” In 2016, the conference once again will be held in Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center.
About the UT Dallas Computer Science Department
The UT Dallas Computer Science program is one of the largest Computer Science departments in the United States with over 1,600 bachelor’s-degree students, more than 1,100 master’s students, 160 PhD students, and 80 faculty members, as of Fall 2015. With The University of Texas at Dallas’ unique history of starting as a graduate institution first, the CS Department is built on a legacy of valuing innovative research and providing advanced training for software engineers and computer scientists.