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The Scarlet & Black

Female students attend conference for women in computer science

grace hopper - contributed
The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.
Photo contributed.

This past weekend 16 students from Grinnell went to the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Minneapolis, where women from across the nation gathered and shared their interests in computer science. It was also a great opportunity to network with women in the career field and take part in a variety of workshops involving computer sciences.
“Because the focus of Grace Hopper is on women in computing, it’s not focused on one narrow research area … it includes industry professionals, faculty, graduate students, undergraduate students, even some high school students and it just covers the entire breadth of computer science, both in research and industry. And so it’s really a great opportunity for students to learn about all the opportunities there are in computing fields,” said Janet Davis, Computer Science, who also attended the conference.
Since there are far fewer women than men in the field of computer science, the conference was a great way for female students to get in contact with technology businesses of all sizes. Jennelle Nystrom ’14, one of the student leaders at the conference, told the S&B in an email that two Grinnell students were even offered internships immediately following their interviews with companies.
“All four days I spent there were packed with activities which were mostly going to companies and talking to them … I wanted an internship out of that, so I got what I wanted,” said Lea Marolt Sonnenschein ’15, who received an Anita Borg Institute scholarship to attend the conference.
Just two years ago, only four Grinnell students were able to attend this particular conference. The jump to 16 students this year represents a great accomplishment and increase in women interested in computer science.
“Since 2011, we’ve seen the number of women in computer science really grow and I really want to keep that going. I really want to build a supportive community for women in computer science in Grinnell,” Davis said.
Part of the reason so many students were able to attend was the new location—Minneapolis. Previously, it was difficult to find funding to pay for student airfares to attend a conference like this.
The conference was also supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) scholarship Grinnell received last year, Grinnell’s Donald L. Wilson program and a number of alumni. Next year, the conference will be held in Phoenix, Ariz., which might make transportation more difficult, yet, Davis remains hopeful that more students will continue to have the opportunity to attend.
“What I would like to do next year is … continue taking second- and third-year students to this conference because I think it’s a great opportunity for students, both to figure out if ‘is computer science really for me?’ and ‘what kinds of opportunities are there?’” Davis said.
Nystrom also reported that almost all the students got in contact with companies that will open up doors for future opportunities in jobs and internships, which would put the students at a greater advantage even after they graduate Grinnell College.
“Right now, I think there are a lot of advantages to being a woman in computer science because everyone is trying to support women … so it’s kind of easier to get jobs and internships … and get support from companies,” Marolt Sonnenschein said. “A lot of bigger companies like Microsoft provide scholarships specifically for women … right now it’s all going towards female empowerment.”
The conference is definitely a large part of that process for helping female students gain opportunities that were not necessarily open to them in the past. Students at Grinnell who have attended the conference before were able to lead new students during the conference by facilitating the process of being able to network with companies.
“I think that Grace Hopper is a wonderful opportunity for students to not just learn new things and get mentored by other people, but also develop their own leadership capacity and become mentors to other students,” Davis said.

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