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Fall’17 Grace Series Presents Three Inspirational Speakers from State Farm, USAA, and UT Dallas

This semester, the fall 2017 Grace Series Talks featured three inspiring members of the tech community, Dr. Farokh Bastani, UT Dallas CS Professor, Excellence in Education Chair, and Director of the UT Dallas site of the NSF Net-centric and Cloud Software and Systems Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (NSF NCSS I/UCRC), Ms. Lisa Frey, State Farm Scrum Master, and Ms. Kimberly Snipes, USAA, VP, Chief Information Officer. Each speaker’s talk attracted a full room of eager UT Dallas CS/SE students who wished to learn more about their journeys as leaders and technologist who advocate for women in STEM.

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 and male technologists in the field. Drs. Pushpa KumarJanell 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 several 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 female and male 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.

Pictured (from left): Drs. Pushpa Kumar, Farokh Bastani, and Janell Straach.

The Fall 2017 Grace Series began with its first male speaker, Dr. Farokh Bastani, a UT Dallas CS Professor, Excellence in Education Chair, and Director of the UT Dallas Site for the NSF NCSS I/UCRC. Dr. Bastani delivered a talk titled “Wonderful Outstanding Mentors, Engineers, and Novel Researchers in Computer Science.”  In his talk, Dr. Bastani highlighted the positive impact of the brilliant contributions of female computer scientists that he has encountered in his career, all who are significantly working to enhance various aspects of computer science and other tech-related fields. Dr. Bastani talked about the careers of 19 women he has worked with, including Susan L. Graham, the founding editor-in-chief of the ACM Transactions on Programming Languages and Systems, Dr. Nancy Leveson, professor of aeronautics and astronautics as well as engineering systems at MIT, Dr. Belle W. Wei, the Dean of the College of Engineering at San Jose State University (SJSU) and the first Asian American woman college dean, Dr. Karama Kanoun,  Directeur de Recherche at Laboratory for Analysis and Architecture of System in the  Centre national de la recherche scientifique (LAAS – CNRS), Dr. Luqi, Professor of Computer Science & Cyber Systems and Operations Naval Postgraduate School, Rita V. Rodriguez,  Program Director in CISE at the National Science Foundation, and many more (click here for Dr. Bastani’s Grace Series presentation).

“So many female computer scientists have made truly outstanding contributions in computer science, advancing research, education, outreach, mentoring of students, and growing the tech community. I am grateful to every female technologist that I have met and have yet to meet; they are absolutely inspiring.” Dr. Bastani concluded his talk by saying, “My experience over my long career shows that female computer scientists have great ability to continuously enhance our field of computer science.”

Pictured from the left: Dr. Pushpa Kumar, Lisa Frey, and Dr. Janell Straach

The second speaker that the Grace Series featured was  Ms. Lisa Frey, a scrum master for one of State Farm’s insurance product solutions development teams. Ms. Frey delivered a talk titled “Finding Joy in Ordinary Moments.” Her talk focused on finding joy in your career and everyday life in the most unexpected places. She spoke about how if you work to combine your passions within work and within daily life you can find yourself an interesting and fulfilling career and life journey. Ms. Frey provided students with a new perspective on how one can discover what brings you joy, while sharing with the students her own ongoing search for the joy in ordinary moments. She spoke about the three pillars that bring a person joy: the first pillar was a reminder to stay purposeful, the second was to be vulnerable, and the third pillar was to be fearless.

She shared with the students her own wisdom gained by experience, “No matter where you are in your life’s journey you will always need to look inside yourself and ask yourself what brings you joy in your ordinary life.” She continued by reminding the students of the three pillars, “Be purposeful, find your strengths and serve others with them, be vulnerable, use truth and be courageous, and be fearless.”

Pictured from the left: Dr. Pushpa Kumar, Kim Snipes, and Dr. Janell Straach.

The final speaker for the Fall 2017 Grace Series was Ms. Kimberly Snipes, USAA, VP, Chief Information Officer. Kimberly Snipes is accountable for the leadership and strategy for all Information Technology activities for USAA. Her key responsibilities include building and maintaining relationships with senior executives, strategy and planning, oversight of application development, as well as operations and maintenance, while focusing on time to market, quality and innovation. Snipes delivered a talk titled “Life’s Journey.” In her talk, Kimberly took students and faculty through her personal journey to define herself by more than her career while still striving for career success, her evolution into a genuine leader, and how she learned to understand her responsibility to be an engaged advocate for diversity and women.

She advised the audience that “Perfection does not equal success. Mistakes happen, and the important thing is to own that mistake and find a solution. One should never let a great failure go to waste because your best successes can come from your worst failure.”  She ended her talk by telling the students to “Embrace change; it is the only way to grow and progress in your career.”

Since the inception of the UT Dallas Grace Series in the spring of 2015, a total of fifteen inspiring women and men 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 (click here for her story), Dr. Inga H. Musselman (click here for her story), 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), Romelia Flores a IBM Distinguished Engineer and Master Inventor (click here to read her story), Dr. Peggy Shadduck, Director of both the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) STEM Institute and of the Dallas/North Texas STEM Degree Accelerator Program (click here to read her story), Jill Blanchar, a Bank of America Information Security Executive (click her to read her story), Dr. Farokh Bastani, UT Dallas CS Professor, Excellence in Education Chair, and Director of the UT Dallas site of the NSF Net-centric and Cloud Software and Systems Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (NSF NCSS I/UCRC), Lisa Frey, State Farm Scrum Master, and Kimberly Snipes, USAA, VP, Chief Information Officer.

The Grace Series will continue next spring with more featured guests from both academia and industry.


The UT Dallas Computer Science program is one of the largest Computer Science departments in the United States with over 2,400 bachelor’s-degree students, more than 1,000 master’s students, 150 Ph.D. students,  53 tenure-track faculty members and 38 full-time senior lecturers, as of Fall 2017. 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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