In early October, eight students and two faculty members traveled to Orlando, Florida for the Anita B.org Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. The event was for women in the varying computing fields to connect, collaborate, and create.
The impact that the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing had on the students who were lucky enough to attend has not worn off. For an event so massive, it is hard not to think about the effects it has had on a student and her/his daily life as a computer science or software engineering student. Here is what our attending students had to say…
The department had two Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) Scholars, Megan Rapach, a senior software engineering student, and Kalyna Reda, a junior software engineering student. Students who applied for this coveted scholarship, if selected, were awarded a fully sponsored trip to the conference by Anita B.org and it’s associated sponsors.
The two Monmouth University GHC scholars were grateful to have been given the chance to attend the conference as scholars. Rapach said, “I’m grateful that I was given this opportunity and it was an honor to attend this year’s conference as a GHC Scholar; I attended an event held specifically for scholars, in which I met other scholars from around the world and learned how to construct and deliver an elevator pitch.”
While the scholars were given some extra unique opportunities, they still attended the conference talks and the other varying opportunities such as the career fair and the interview hall, just the same as the rest of the 18,000 women and men that attended the conference.
“I feel very lucky to attend a university where professors, advisors, and the rest of the professional staff, strive to help their students succeed.”
Junior Computer Science Student
For Reda, the talk that stood out most for her was that of Debbie Sterling, the CEO of Goldieblox. Reda stated, “After hearing an idea about engineering tools for girls, she took this to build the amazing company that Goldieblox is today. She persevered through the hard times, and continued despite the many no’s that she received. Sterling wanted to destroy the pink aisle, meaning she wanted to come up with thought provoking toys for little girls, rather than the pink dolls, makeup, and costumes that were in stock at stores. She created GoldieBlox, an engineering toy for girls, and won a Super Bowl commercial to show her product!”
Sterling was also a point of interest for Brianna Licciardello, a junior computer science student. Licciardello was one of six students that were sponsored by Monmouth University School of Science Student Travel Fund and Department of Computer Science & Software Engineering. Licciardello stated of Sterling’s talk: “Her story specifically interested me because it was riddled with so much failure, yet she always prevailed. I was also excited to hear from a speaker who used her degree in an untraditional way, as this is something I can see myself doing one day.”
Many of the students found extreme motivation and inspiration from the various speakers; in a field that is so reliant on ultimate perfection, there truly is a vast amount of failure and fixing that is are imperative steps. Students are often discouraged by failures and by confusion, but this conference and these female speakers showed the attendees that this is merely a part of the process of understanding who you are and what your mission is.
This idea was reflected by sophomore computer science student, Stephanie Okereke, who was comforted by the speakers’ expressions of failure: “…Sometimes I feel as though because I was not exposed to programming in my high school years that I am incapable of doing the work, when in reality that is the opposite. As the saying goes, we all have to learn to crawl before we can walk.”
For MIS graduate student, Lauren Niesz, this was also an integral part for her to find her way in the field: “For me, personally, this conference gave me direction in my life. I am a graduate student of MIS, but I was an English undergraduate student, so I was pretty lost in the field before this conference. If I didn’t attend this conference, I would have no focus and my motivation in the field would be lacking as well.”
Along the same sentiment, a junior software engineering student, Jessica Zemartis, admitted, “Oftentimes, I find myself struggling with Imposter Syndrome- low confidence and exceedingly high personal standards. The Grace Hopper Celebration was the dose of inspiration, confidence and exposure I needed to help move past some of those mental barriers.”
“Seeing so many diverse, interesting, and successful women from a plethora of companies, positions and backgrounds helped me feel more comfortable in my own skin and how my own journey has unfolded. It helped me realize that while there still exist many cultural and social barriers that need to be overcome, the biggest barrier to my success would be myself if I didn’t truly embrace my skills, experiences and passions,” Zemartis continued.
KerryAnn DeMeester, a senior software engineering student, agreed with what others said, “I needed this convention to prove to myself that I am capable of being a successful woman in technology.”
Junior computer science and software engineering student, William Jones, was one of very few males to attend the conference. His take on the conference was definitely different from the others. He stated, “I would have never guessed in the field that I am studying that there is such a divide and that even within this divide, there is another divide that deals with race and ethnicity.”
He continued, “I have been given a chance to hopefully change this so that in the company and places that I wind up working at can stop this unjustness from happening immediately and maybe from ever happening again in the future.”
These students were able to find their way in the field and truly learn how to navigate through all of the opportunities that the field has to offer young, female tech-oriented students. They were all extremely grateful for the opportunity and many had some words of thanks to extend to the Department of Computer Science & Software Engineering & the Anita B.org Institute (for scholars)…
Megan Rapach: “I’m grateful that I was given this opportunity and it was an honor to attend this year’s conference as a GHC Scholar.”
Brianna Licciardello: “I feel very lucky to attend a university where professors, advisors, and the rest of the professional staff, strive to help their students succeed. If it was not for this hands-on professional development approach, I might not have had the opportunity to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing this October.”
Lauren Niesz: “I am so thankful to the Department of Computer Science & Software Engineering, the School of Science, and just Monmouth University in general for affording me this transformative experience.”
Jessica Zemartis: “I hope that Monmouth University will continue to send students to the Grace Hopper Celebration for many years to come. I found the experience deeply moving and will continue to attend future Celebrations, while encouraging other women to do the same.”
KerryAnn DeMeester: “I am beyond grateful to Monmouth University for sponsoring me to attend the Grace Hopper Convention. As an individual who struggles with maintaining self-esteem and confidence,”
Reda sums it up when she stated, “I am excited to be a part of this change.” All of our students who attended this conference are bursting with the thirst for change and beaming with a light of opportunity. They wanted to share their experience at this event in order to show others who did not have the opportunity to attend that anything really is possible—even for a woman, and even in the field of computing, engineering, and technology.