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Grace Series Continues to Inspire and Foster a Stronger Community for Women in Tech

Despite the gains that women have made in STEM careers, men still make up 73% of all STEM workers. In order to combat this issue and help foster a stronger community for women in tech, the UT Dallas Computer Science Department has hosted a monthly lecture series called the Grace Series. This semester, the Fall 2021 UT Dallas Grace Series Talks featured three inspiring female members of the tech community Dr. Stephanie Adams, Dean of the UT Dallas Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, Dr. Elisa Bertino, a Samuel D. Conte Professor of Computer Science Cyber2Slab at Purdue University, and Fanny Dunagan, CEO & LinkedIn Content Strategist at Pathlynks.

The first talk of the Fall 2021 Virtual Grace Series featured UT Dallas Erik Jonsson School Dean Dr. Stephanie Adams. Dr. Stephanie G. Adams is the 5th Dean of the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Texas, Dallas, and Past President of the American Society of Engineering Education. Her research interests include Broadening Participation, Faculty and Graduate Student Development, International/Global Education, Teamwork and Team Effectiveness, and Quality Control and Management.  In 2003, she received the CAREER award from the Engineering Education and Centers Division of the National Science Foundation. Dr. Adams is a leader in the advancement and inclusion of all in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.  She has worked with several colleges and universities, government agencies and non-profit organizations on topics related to graduate education, mentoring, faculty development and diversifying STEM. In her talk titled “Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey: From Dropout to Dean,” Dean Adams Stephanie Adams spoke from her heart about how passionate she is about women in technology as well as fostering and growing diverse communities in STEM. She also shared her personal journey, discussed societal concerns, as well as shared practical career advice.

Five lessons included 1) Play the hand you’re dealt, 2) Always believe in yourself and always be you and stay true to who you are, 3) Find your passion, 4) Seize Opportunities, and 5) always keep dreaming and have fun.

The first lesson she shared with the students was “Play the hand you’re dealt!” She asked the students to think about all the things that they have today but what is that you want badly enough that you would sacrifice something to get it. She advised students that they are never too old to do something different. You don’t have to get everything right the first time around. It doesn’t matter how you start, it’s how you finish that matters!”

During her second lesson, she urged students to always believe in themselves and always be you, and stay true to who they are. Her third lesson centered on the idea of finding your passion. She advised students to figure out what they are passionate about and stick to it! “Don’t let anybody try to change your mind! Expand your horizons. Just remember that at the end of the day that core of what you’re passionate about has to motivate and drive you,” said Adams. She advised students to always have a goal set for themselves.

Her fourth lesson focused on the concept of seizing opportunities. “Sometimes you can’t march to the beat of everybody else drum, you have to find your own and hope that it works out for you in the final analysis,” she stated. Adams went on to talk about the importance of networking saying “you never know who is going to be in a position to help you. With Networking, you never know where somebody else is going to go and where they can bring you, and if they can open a door for you or provide a letter of recommendation for you. So, it is important to get out there and meet other people. Effective networking isn’t a result of luck. It requires some hard work and persistence so sometimes you have to keep reaching out to people and ask them what can I learn from you and what can you teach me.” Seeking mentorship was another important lesson she wanted to share with the students. “Mentorship is very important, by having one you can call them for guidance and counsel when you need a broader perspective than what you can see.” Her next lessons were to always try and stay focused and don’t be scared! “Don’t let fear control you and stop you from achieving your goals. Everyone is afraid! If they are honest with you then they are afraid! I am afraid some days, I am not going to have all the right answers and I’m not going to figure it out just yet. Sometimes people become so afraid that they become paralyzed by fear. I may be afraid, but I am still out there trying my best to figure it out. Don’t let fear be a form of paralysis for you”

“Along my journey, I learned the importance of working hard, a lot of people want a shortcut and don’t want to work hard. Sometimes shortcuts are okay but it’s the hard work that gets you further along.”

One of the final pieces of wisdom she shared was to always keep dreaming and have fun. “When I look back on my journey, I realize that I have had a lot of fun along the way whether it be traveling or relaxing,” noted Dr. Adams. “These are lessons that I have learned throughout my journey, and hopefully as each of you is going through your journey you can find some words of wisdom in what I’ve said that can help you that can help you stay on course.”


The second talk in the Fall 2021 Virtual Grace Series featured Dr. Elisa Bertino. Dr. Elisa Bertino is the Samuel D. Conte Professor of Computer Science at Purdue University. She serves as Director of the Purdue Cyberspace Security Lab (Cyber2Slab). Prior to joining Purdue, she was a professor and department head at the Department of Computer Science and Communication of the University of Milan. She has been a visiting researcher at the IBM Research Laboratory (now Almaden) in San Jose, at the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation, at Telcordia Technologies, and visiting professor at the Singapore Management University and the National University of Singapore. Her recent research focuses on cybersecurity and privacy of cellular networks and IoT systems, and edge analytics and machine learning for cybersecurity.

Elisa Bertino is a Fellow member of IEEE, ACM, and AAAS. She received the 2002 IEEE Computer Society Technical Achievement Award for “For outstanding contributions to database systems and database security and advanced data management systems”, the 2005 IEEE Computer Society Tsutomu Kanai Award for “Pioneering and innovative research contributions to secure distributed systems”, the 2014 ACM SIGSAC Outstanding Contributions Award with citation “For her seminal research contributions and outstanding leadership to data security and privacy for the past 25 years”, and the 2019-2020 ACM Athena Lecturer Award. She has been recently inducted into the GSMA Mobile Security Hall of Fame.

In Bertino’s talk titled “Privacy in the Era of Big Data, Machine Learning, IoT, and 5G,” she began by presenting an interesting privacy attack that exploits paging occasions in 5G cellular networks.  “Such attack shows that achieving privacy is challenging and there is no unique technique that one can use; rather one must combine different techniques depending also on the intended use of data,” she noted.  Examples of these techniques and their applications are presented.” She then went on to discuss the notion of data transparency – critical when dealing with user-sensitive data.

During her talk, she also discussed her important lessons she learned throughout her journey through academia and industry. “I have always been interested in cyber security and database.  During the early points of my career, I started working more and more on cyber security and at that time I remember reading all papers by Bhavani Thuraisingham because she had been working in data security for much longer than I. She had done so much of the fundamental work like security”

Throughout her talk, she shared important lessons she learned in her career and urged students to keep an open mind and to always keep learning. “In my life, I have noticed that changing things whether it be in your career or personal life helps a lot because it helps you broaden not only your views but also your knowledge. Interacting with many different people and networking are very important and have helped me a lot in my career. I find that my research and knowledge are enhanced whenever I am in a new environment, and I begin to start talking to other people who are into researching different things. I always try to expand my knowledge and research often based on collaborators and collaborating projects. I believe it is critical to be open and always learning and never stopping,” she noted.

The final talk of the Fall 2021 Virtual Grace Series featured Fanny Dunagan, CEO & LinkedIn Content Strategist at Pathlynks. Fanny Dunagan is the Founder and Video Content Strategist of PathLynks, a consulting firm that helps business owners, coaches and consultants create digital content, video strategies & content plans. She trains and empowers individuals and leadership teams to take charge of their personal and business branding, create value for others and build an engaged community around their products, services, and values. You can learn more from Fanny Dunagan online by visiting her website and YouTube as well as connecting with her on LinkedIn. Every other Thursday at 4 pm (CDT), Dunagan livestreams and posts content tips of the week on her various social media sites.

Before starting her own company, Fanny had a corporate career in change management consulting, communications, and training for technology projects in the Aerospace & Defense industry. As a senior consultant at Arthur Andersen Business Consulting and HCL Technologies, she served Fortune 500 clients such as Singapore Airlines and United Technologies Corporation Aerospace Systems (formerly Goodrich Corporation), as well as the Republic of Singapore Navy.

She paused her corporate career to be a stay-at-home mom to her two children and subsequently became an entrepreneur helping small, medium, and enterprise-level companies with recruitment, branding, and video marketing. She’s spoken about branding and videos at a variety of marketing and technology associations, as well as at the headquarters of Toyota and Whole Foods. She also volunteers her time speaking at colleges, career fairs, and job search networking events to serve those in career transition.

In her talk titled “LinkedIn Content Creation to Land Your Dream Job,” Dunagan discussed how to effectively showcase one’s expertise to employers by building a LinkedIn page that shows off your personal brand as well as addressing how to create content around your expertise to help land your next job. During her talk, she spoke about the importance of creating LinkedIn content. “Right now, LinkedIn has become so much more than just a job search platform. It’s become a place to do business, exchange ideas, find other people in your industry that whom you can collaborate and learn by exchanging ideas and partnering up. It is so much more than just a job search site. I strongly encourage you all to get a head start on it and build up your LinkedIn brand and image so that when you do graduate there will already be people that know you within your industry. Even if you are still in college, one of the things you can do while you grow your career is to start posting things and build your brand on LinkedIn. That way people can get to know you through your content,” she noted.

She spoke of the importance of creating a professional LinkedIn profile and how it is important to define your unique brand online and offline. She explained that there are four important reasons why it is important to create content saying, “First of all creating content creates job opportunities, second it attracts people in your industry and outside, thirdly it allows people to get to know you allowing them to like and trust you, and lastly it allows you to be a voice in your industry and helps build thought leadership.” She continued on saying, “when you create content, people feel like they know you before they meet you.”

She advised students to build a community around their expertise, values, strengths, and interests. “LinkedIn is the number one global platform for professionals. So now is the perfect time for you all to start connecting and finding other experts in your computer science field. It’s not what you know but who you know. It’s important to start interacting with people within your industry and outside. Start building your network now,” said Dunagan.

She continued, “I want you all to know that you matter, you are enough, you have something of value to give and share. Everyone has a story, when submitting a resume, it is important to remember that people are going to want to remember your story. Ask yourself why did you choose computer science, what drove you to it? People resonate with stories which makes people remember you.”

You can learn more from Fanny Dunagan online by visiting her website and YouTube as well as connecting with her on LinkedIn.

The Grace Series Talks at UT Dallas generally 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 Conference (GHC) several years ago. Through the years, additional faculty members have become involved with the series, including Dr. Karen Mazidi, Dr. Bhavani ThuraisinghamDr. Mehra N. Borazjany, and Dr. Gity Karami. The conference, fittingly named after the woman who helped pioneer computer programming, Rear Admiral Dr. Grace Murray Hopper, has involved 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.

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

Since the inception of the UT Dallas Grace Series in the spring of 2015, a total of thirty-three inspiring women and men have spoken, including:

  1. Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham, Louis A. Beecherl Jr. Distinguished Professor, UT Dallas CS Professor, and Executive Director of the UT Dallas Cyber Security Research and Education Institute (CSI) (click here for her story)
  2. Dr. Lily Wu, UT Dallas CS Professor and Director of the Data Communication and Data Management (DCDM) Laboratory  (click here for her story)
  3. Dr. I-Ling Yen, UT Dallas CS Professor (click here for her story)
  4. Dr. Ranran Feng, UT Dallas CS Professor (click here for her story)
  5. Dr. Sanda Harabagiu, UT Dallas CS Professor, Erik Jonsson School Research Initiation Chair, and Director of the UT Dallas Human Language Technology Research Institute (HLTRI) (click here for her story)
  6. Dr. Rym Zalila-Wenkstern, UT Dallas CS Professor and Director of the Multi-Agent and Visualization Systems lab (click here for her story)
  7. Dr. Inga H. Musselman, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost for The University of Texas at Dallas (click here for her story)
  8. Dr. Jo Zhang of Fujitsu Laboratories of America (click here to read her story),
  9. 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) (click here to read his story)
  10. 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)
  11. Lymari Ames of Cisco Systems (click here to read her story)
  12. Romelia Flores an IBM Distinguished Engineer and Master Inventor (click here to read her story)
  13. Jill Blanchar, a Bank of America Information Security Executive (click here to read her story)
  14. Lisa Frey, State Farm Scrum Master (click here to read her story)
  15. Kimberly Snipes, USAA, VP, Chief Information Officer (click here to read her story)
  16. Catherine Walsh, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Loss Prevention for Johnson Controls’ Tyco Retail Solutions
  17. Dr. Nimmi Kannankutty, Deputy Division Director in the Division of Graduate Education (DGE) at the National Science Foundation (NSF).
  18. Dr. Karen Mazidi, UT Dallas CS Professor (click here to view her slides from her Grace Series Talk titled “Discovering Your Strengths”)
  19. Grace Kaldawi, Senior Software Engineer for Capital One Auto Finance, Amazon Web Services Certified Solutions Architect, and UT Dallas CS Alumnus (click here to read more)
  20. Dr. Sydeaka Watson, Senior Data Scientist at Korelasi Data Insights, LLC, an independent analytics consulting company (click here to read more)
  21. Dr. Ewa Musial, Senior Software Engineer at Blackhawk Network (click here to read more or click here to view slides from her presentation)
  22. Dr. Janell Straach, Rice University CS Professor, former UT Dallas CS professor, and one the Grace Series founders (click here to read more or click here to view slides from her presentation)
  23. Uni Yost, CEO/Founder of GoAskJay Inc. (click here to read more or click here to view slides from her presentation)
  24. Dr. Smita Bakshi, President, and Co-Founder of zyBooks (click here to read more or click here to view slides from her presentation)
  25. Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham, Louis A. Beecherl Jr. Distinguished Professor, UT Dallas CS Professor, and Executive Director of the UT Dallas Cyber Security Research and Education Institute (CSI) (click here to watch her talk)
  26. Dr. Betty Stewart, Provost, Executive Vice-President for Academic Affairs and tenured Professor of Chemistry at the University of North Texas at Dallas (click here to watch her talk)
  27. Neeti Khaitan Gupta, President and CEO of Accelerate Consulting Inc. (click here to watch her talk)
  28. Juliet G. Odima, CSM, CSPO, Executive Director, STEAM Achievers Associate Vice President, and Director, School of Data Science and Analytics, Colaberry Inc. (click here to watch her talk)
  29. Seda Mauer, Digital Accessibility Consultant at Seda Maurer Consulting (click here to watch her talk)
  30. Shobana Radhakrishnan, Director of Engineering for Android TV at Google (click here to watch her talk)
  31. Dr. Stephanie Adams, UT Dallas Erik Jonsson School Dean and Lars Magnus Ericsson Chair at The University of Texas at Dallas (click here to watch her talk)
  32. Dr. Elisa Bertino, a Samuel D. Conte Professor of Computer Science Cyber2Slab at Purdue University (click here to watch her talk)
  33. Fanny Dunagan, CEO & LinkedIn Content Strategist at Pathlynks (click here to watch her talk)


The UT Dallas Computer Science program is one of the largest Computer Science departments in the United States with over 4,000 bachelors-degree students, more than 1,010 master’s students, 140 Ph.D. students,  52 tenure-track faculty members, and 42 full-time senior lecturers, as of Fall 2021. 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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