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The 2016 Grace Series Talks Closes with Dr. Rym Zalila-Wenkstern

Last semester, the Grace Series finished its fall 2016 series of talks with UT Dallas’ very own, Dr. Rym Zalila-Wenkstern, Associate Professor of Computer Science at UT Dallas and Director of both the Executive Master’s of Software Engineering Program and the Multi-Agent and Visualization Systems Lab at UT Dallas. On November 29th, Dr. Zalila-Wenkstern closed out the fall run of the Grace Series as the 9th woman featured, with her talk titled, “Marrying CS and Living ‘Happily Ever After’ in Academia – Everything You Wanted To Know But Were Afraid To Ask.” Dr. Wenkstern has twice been the recipient of UT Dallas’ Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science Teaching Excellence Award.

The Grace Series Talks feature a wide range of speakers including UT Dallas Computer Science and Software Engineering alumni, UT Dallas CS/SE professors, as well as other distinguished female technologists in the field. Drs. Puspha Kumar, Janell Straach, and Linda Morales conceived the idea of the UT Dallas Grace Series as a result of attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) Conference a few years ago. The conference, fittingly named after the woman who helped pioneer computer programming, Rear Admiral Dr. Grace Murray Hopper, involves a series of presentations designed to bring research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront. Every year, GHC brings together the community of women technologists, highlighting the best minds in computing and spotlighting the contributions of women to computing. The UT Dallas Computer Science Grace Series lectures are fashioned after the GHC Conference format.

Last semester, the UT Dallas CS department had 36 CS/SE students participate in the Grace Hopper Conference, and almost all the young women came back with not only inspiring stories but job offers, interviews for jobs, and internships. You can read more about the student’s experiences by clicking here.

DSC_0019Before handing the floor over to Dr. Zalila-Wenkstern, Dr. Kumar greeted the students with her opening remarks. Dr. Kumar began the talk by looking back at her own experiences at the 2016 Grace Hopper Conference and how powerful it was not only for her but also for the students who attended, many who were also attending Dr. Zalila-Wenkstern’s Grace Series Talk. Dr. Kumar spoke on the importance of female empowerment amongst the female population not only at UT Dallas but, most importantly, among all women in technology. Dr. Kumar then warmly welcomed Dr. Zalila-Wenkstern to deliver the final Grace Series talk of 2016.

Dr. Zalila-Wenkstern started her interactive talk by asking the students how their relationship with computer science started and what made them decide to choose to study CS. The student’s answers varied greatly from parental influence to scholarships and personal choice. During her talk, Dr. Zalila-Wenkstern shared lessons that she learned from her life-long relationship with computer science all while making jokes and answering questions throughout her talk. Dr. Zalila-Wenkstern openly discussed with the students some of the common mistakes she sees students make while pursuing an education at the undergraduate, Master’s, and even the PhD levels.

Throughout her talk, Dr. Zalila-Wenkstern spoke with humor and candor. She advised the PhD students in the room saying, “The purpose of a PhD is not to just write a thesis, it is to turn you into researchers and free thinkers… and believe me I do know that it is hard and it takes effort and lots of time.” She continued on saying, “What is most important to professors is not just the writing or the topic, it is who you become as a researcher, and the thinking that leads to you writing your thesis.”

Dr. Zalila-Wenkstern is an Associate Professor in the Computer Science Department at UT Dallas. She holds a PhD in Computer Science from the University of Ottawa, Canada, and the Doctorat de Specialité in Computer Science from the University of Tunis, Tunisia. She is the director of the Multi-Agent and Visualization Systems Lab at UT Dallas. Her research projects are sponsored by several organizations, including the National Science Foundation, Sandia National Laboratories, Rockwell Collins, and the Department of Education. She has served on several international conference organizing committees and numerous program committees. She is the founding director of the Executive Masters of Science in Software Engineering Program at UT Dallas. She has worked as a consultant for U.S. and European organizations and is the CEO of ZW Corp, a startup specializing in the development of web-based multi-agent systems.

Pictured: Drs. Pushpa Kumar, Rym Zalila-Wenkstern, and Janell Straach

Since the inception of the UT Dallas Grace Series back in the spring of 2015 a total of nine inspiring women have spoken including: Drs. Bhavani Thuraisingham (click here for her story), Lily Wu (click here for her story), I-Ling Yen (click here for her story), Ranran Feng (click here for her story), Sanda Harabagiu (click here for her story), Rym Zalila-Wenkstern, and distinguished industry technologists like Dr. Jo Zhang of Fujitsu Laboratories of America (click here to read her story), Lymari Ames of Cisco Systems (click here to read her story), and Romelia Flores a IBM Distinguished Engineer and Master Inventor (click here to read her story).


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 2,100 bachelor’s-degree students, more than 1,000 MS master’s students, 150 PhD students, and 86 faculty members, as of Fall 2016. 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.

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