$3,000 grant awarded to female computer science association

Anushikha Sharma '18, Contributing Writer

At the end of Summer 2016, the University’s new chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery-Women (ACM-W) was awarded a $3,000 startup seed fund by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). The chapter was one of seven winners among many colleges and universities in the United States.

Founded in Spring 2016 by Anushikha Sharma ’18 and Laura Poulton ’18 under the guidance of the chapter adviser, Assistant Professor of Computer Science Darakhshan Mir, the current executive board has five members who will be leading the charge for the next two semesters: Sharma, president; Poulton, vice president; Cristal Hermosillo ’17, treasurer; Sierra Magnotta ’18, secretary; and Tongyu Yang ’18, outreach liaison.

The chapter was created to fill the need for a female community in the computer science discipline. Classrooms and spaces are disproportionately filled with men, and it can be difficult to find representation among students or professors. There is a ‘bro’ culture perpetuating subtle sexism that the University has yet to even begin tackling. Thus, ACM-W began as an initiative to provide women and other minority groups in computer science with the support needed to grow and learn. The chapter’s goal is to serve as a space where women can find help, academically or socially.

The programming for the 2016-2017 school year focuses on organizing, mentoring, and inspiring.

Currently, the chapter consists of around 20 active members, most of whom are third- and fourth-year students at the University. Initiatives for the semester include a diversity panel where students can ask questions to alumni, professors, and their peers who have been actively involved in the STEM disciplines and a peer mentoring program that pairs first-years with upperclassmen. Additionally, the startup seed fund will finance mentor training, weekly lunches, mini-hackathons, bonding activities, and tutoring sessions.

The chapter is also hoping to partner with the Association for Computer Machinery to co-host an event to gain more allies and raise awareness in the department, along with Library and Information Technology (L&IT) and the Career Development Center (CDC) to get access to the best resources around campus for technical events, programming competitions, and hackathons.

The executive members are making a concerted effort to have students apply to attend conferences such as the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing and the Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing so that they will be exposed to role models and potential career options in industry and academia. This year with the support of the University’s Department of Computer Science, College of Engineering, College of Arts & Science, and the Office of the Provost, the chapter is sending 13 women to Houston, Texas for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

Women currently comprise 20 percent of the software workforce and similarly, only about 20 percent of computer science majors at the University. Often, female students tend to drop out of the major because they do not see enough representation or are unable to find a support system to sustain them. This year’s programs will help build ACM-W as an organization where students find support and encouragement among their peers. However, the organization is not merely open to women but to all students who might find interest in computer science or want to support the organization as allies.

The award from NCWIT, which is sponsored by Google.org, will support and enhance the initiatives of the ACM-W and allow the chapter to create better opportunities for women in computer science at the University.

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