Female IST students find inspiration, empowerment at Grace Hopper conference

Jennifer Cifelli
December 07, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — If women studying in Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) ever feel outnumbered in the industry and in the classroom, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) provides a powerful reminder that women in technology are setting the standard for inclusion and equality and are indeed making a difference in the world.

For eight IST students who traveled to the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas, Oct. 19-21, inclusion and inspiration were highlights of the conference. Created to bring women in computing together to discuss research and career interests, the conference included presentations, professional development activities, an open source day, and more.

Each year, the College of IST offers scholarships to young women to attend the conference, produced by the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology and presented in partnership with the Association for Computing Machinery. For McKenzie Powell, an IST student who attended the conference, the number of women in attendance from different backgrounds and academic levels was inspiring.

“I had the opportunity to learn about new technology from people actually developing it, not administrators or higher-ups,” said Powell. “These are the people who hit the rubber to the road to implement projects, and meeting them was an irreplaceable experience.”

Powell said the conference opened her eyes to the diversity of technology, which for her translates to unlimited options in fields such as entrepreneurship, renewable energy, media and more since technology is used in every industry.

Another attendee and IST student, Sage Ingram, noted how the conference showed her the importance of women supporting other young professional women in the field.

“They reminded me to never shy away from opportunities that seem intimidating or competitive. Having the open support of women will only make us feel more confident and deserving of the best opportunities,” said Ingram. “There is a world of women and men supporting the next generation of innovation. It is one of the most humbling experiences to network with top technology companies who are just as excited as you are about your future.”

A highlight of the conference for Ingram was unexpectedly meeting keynote speaker Megan Smith, the United States Chief Technology Officer (CTO). “After speaking with Megan, she handed me her business card which read, ‘Megan Smith, assistant to the president.’ I was in awe!”

Since its inception in 1994, GHC has grown to be the largest gathering of women technologists in the world. This year’s event was estimated to have nearly 15,000 attendees from more than 60 countries. In addition to Smith, other keynote speakers at this year’s conference included Ginni Rometty, president and CEO of IBM; Latanya Sweeney, Harvard University professor and editor-in-chief, technology science director and founder of Data Privacy Lab; and Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce.

Students who attended the conference were impressed by the level of expertise and impact of the speakers, notably that of Rometty. Her keynote address, according to Powell and Ingram, inspired the audience with three pieces of advice: Do not let anyone define you; growth and comfort never coexist; and work on something bigger than yourself. Both students said these words inspired them to work harder and forge their own unique futures in technology.

One IST student who attended the conference, Audra Stafursky, described the GHC in one word: inspirational. She added the GHC could inspire more young women to pursue careers in technology and make an impact. Stafursky said she’s felt at times like one of few women interested in technology, but the conference opened her eyes to a new perspective.

“When I used to think of the people at the forefront of innovation in technology, I thought of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates. However, [because of GHC] I now have women that I can look up to as leaders in technology, such as Latanya Sweeney, Joy Buolamwini, Alicia Chong Rodriguez, the women at Google X, and Susann Keohane,” said Stafursky.

“In college, women are still underrepresented in technology fields, but being at GHC felt like we were starting a movement. I felt like I belonged in the world of computing.”

Last Updated December 09, 2016