OMS CS Women Among 15K Attending Grace Hopper 2016

Most of the 15,000 women and men at the 2016 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing were meeting their fellow attendees face to face for the first time—and that includes a group of Georgia Tech master’s students who were classmates long before they arrived at the conference.

The 19 women were representing Georgia Tech’s online M.S. in Computer Science (OMS CS) program, and they’d converged from all corners of the United States at Grace Hopper—held Oct. 17-21 in Houston—for an opportunity to meet their OMS CS colleagues, build their knowledge and industry networks, and hail the achievements of women in their field.

“In the middle of my career, it’s so eye-opening to come here as a student,” said Eréndira Brumley, a software engineer at Verizon who’s currently taking her fifth OMS CS course. “It makes me remember when I was first a student—that feeling of discovery and learning about new things and the directions my career could take.”

Brumley and the rest of the group were traveling on scholarships awarded by the College of Computing, but they were far from the only OMS CS students in Houston that week. Many company representatives attending the conference were also enrolled in OMS CS, as were other attendees traveling to Grace Hopper on their own.

“The first day of the conference was a little overwhelming,” said Erin Paciorkowski, a Grace Hopper Scholar who was awarded a scholarship from conference organizers. “Since then it’s been a lot of fun. It’s great to meet some of the other women in the OMS CS program. As a group of scholars, they’re great to know and hang around with, sharing Uber rides.”

Just as in past years, the College of Computing was an academic gold sponsor of Grace Hopper, bringing not only the group of 19 OMS students but also a contingent of on-campus undergraduate and graduate students. This year, Senior Associate Dean Charles Isbell—instructor of two OMS CS courses—also made the trip.

“It’s important not just to generally be in support of promoting diversity in computing—who wouldn’t be in favor of that?—but to provide visible support,” Isbell said. “That’s why the College of Computing has been a proponent and sponsor of things like Grace Hopper, the Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing, and the NCWIT Pacesetters program. Computing as a field, and certainly we as a College, benefits tremendously from having as diverse a community as possible. We’ve made great progress. There’s still a lot of work to do.”

In addition to taking in Grace Hopper’s technical and career development sessions, several students also made time to visit Georgia Tech’s booth at the conference Expo and talk to prospective future classmates. And, following the first full day of the conference, everyone convened at a downtown Houston restaurant for an informal get-together over drinks and appetizers.

“Sometimes as a woman I feel like I don’t belong and nobody understands me—I know it’s shallow,” said OMS student Abida Haque. “But it’s neat to see people [at Grace Hopper] I can actually talk to. Their work is really important and makes me want to do important things. It’s inspiring.”

“Inspiring” was also the word Yasmine Elayyat chose to describe her time in Texas. A software engineer for Microsoft and located in Seattle, Elayyat is in her fourth semester of OMS CS and was getting the Grace Hopper experience for the first time. “You come here and see so many women doing great stuff,” she said. “I’m interested in artificial intelligence and machine learning. I went to one session and thought, ‘Yes, I learned this in class, I used that in a project.'"

“It would be great for middle- and high-level managers to come here and see that it’s all women giving the presentations—and nobody notices. We need to make that more normal,” Brumley said. “It’s like, when you’re alone, there’s a spotlight on you. When there are two of you, there’s a bit less of a spotlight. By the time there’s 50 people, it’s no big deal.”

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Mike Terrazas