Computer Science Students Forge Connections at Grace Hopper Celebration

January 5, 2024

Computer Science undergraduate students posing in front of the GHC sign

“Fostering connections among women in technology is essential to combat underrepresentation and create role models, thereby encouraging more women to enter and stay in the field. These connections are instrumental for career advancement, access to job opportunities, mentorship, and helping women’s struggles feel heard in spaces where they often get lost,” computer science (CS) undergraduate student Alex Horowitz stated when asked why she feels fostering connections among women in computing is important.

Horowitz added, “A collective voice among women in tech can also effectively advocate for inclusive policies and gender equity within the industry. Fostering these connections early on will uplift women in gaining equality, support, and respect in tech spaces throughout their lifetime.”

This sentiment echoes the theme of the 2023 Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), “The Way Forward,” which served as a rallying cry for the tech industry to come together and create a more inclusive, equitable future. Horowitz, alongside eight fellow CS undergraduate students, Elaine Ly, Chloe Truong, Liza Mozolyuk, Talia Novack, Sidra Hussain, Dania Abdalla, Lauren Schmidt, and Freya Rosenstein, attended the conference in Orlando, Florida, from September 26 to 29, 2023.

GHC was created in 1994, inspired by the legacy of computer pioneer Admiral Grace Murray Hopper. Hopper was one of the first three modern “programmers,” best known for her trailblazing contributions to the development of computer languages. Every year, the conference highlights the contributions of women to the tech world while bringing the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront.

“I chose to attend because I wanted to make more connections across the industry, especially with fellow women engineers and entrepreneurs. I wanted to meet driven, hardworking, and passionate individuals and listen to their unique stories. Personally, I’m easily inspired by people I perceive to be accomplished or outspoken about their struggles, so I enjoyed the networking sessions, personal workshops, and speakers who shared their perspectives about various issues women face in the tech industry,” Ly stated.

Computer Science undergraduate students standing at the GW Engineering table

The first GHC was held here at GW in the Marvin Center, with CS professor Shelly Heller and former professor Dianne Martin serving as local logistics/program leads. For the past ten years, the CS department and GW Engineering have supported students to help make attending GHC possible. This year, GW Engineering sponsored their tickets to the conference and hotel stay and reimbursed them for the flights they took to and from Orlando. In addition to financial support, GW Engineering ensured they were ready for the conference, including facilitating their registration and providing advice on how to make the most out of these three days.

Through their attendance, each woman was able to learn from leaders in the field about exciting topics in computing, find mentors, expand her professional network, and explore job opportunities. They had the chance to meet hiring managers they otherwise would not have had the opportunity to, and Ly also scored some interviews for summer internships. 

“In addition to professional benefits, I also benefitted from growing closer with the women in the GW computer science community,” said Horowitz. “As a second major in CS, I often don’t have as many opportunities to interact with many of the women in the computer science department as others might. Attending GHC allowed me to make new friends in my major and grow my community back home at GW.”

Being surrounded by pioneering women who recognize the importance of diversity in tech and voiced meeting many of the same hurdles in their computing careers gave these nine women a sense of camaraderie. Ly says knowing she isn’t alone in her studies and ambitions empowered her to work harder and made her leave feeling more affirmed about her career decisions.

“I believe we all stand on the shoulders of giants. Whether it is modern calculus standing on the shoulders of Newton and Leibniz or modern computing standing on those of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, we all benefit in different ways from people who have come before us and ignited an illuminating flame to our heart’s desires. I really do believe that the presence of strong mentorship and community among women is what makes or breaks the decision for women to enter STEM,” Ly stated. “I would not be here today without the supportive women in my life encouraging me to pursue engineering, to fight imposter syndrome, and to tell me that I, too, belong in STEM – that although the sea of faces around me does not resemble mine, I can persist and pioneer. These reasons, spoken and unspoken, are why I feel that connections among women in technology are essential.”