Widgets Magazine

Students, professors attend Grace Hopper Convention

Attendance in computer science courses may have been a bit lower than usual this previous week as around 40 students participated in the Grace Hopper Computer Science Convention in Houston, Texas, last Wednesday through Friday.

Named in honor of computer scientist Grace Murray Hopper, this convention was founded to both celebrate and guide women through the frontier of computer science and has become the world’s largest technical conference for women in computing (men are also welcome to attend).

Over the course of three days, attendees at the conference had the option of attending various workshops from career presentations to emerging technology presentations. The conference also offers a variety of keynote speakers, ranging from CEOs to professors from colleges across America. Some attending speakers included both Chelsea Clinton and Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook.

“[The conference] was three days long with so many events that it was impossible to attend everything. There were panels, keynote speakers and afternoon sessions,” said Jessica Zhao ’17, an attendee at the conference.

“[The conference] provides a wonderful opportunity to take part in the Hopper community, meet female role models in computing and hear about their experiences in the field,” said professor of computer science Mehran Sahami in an email. “Those kinds of personal connections can have a profound influence on students’ decisions to pursue computer science as a major or computing as a field.”

Computer science professor Cynthia Lee weighed in on her own experience as well as those of her students.

“[Some of the students] found it overwhelming on the first day with the experience of being in a room with 12,000 computer scientists that are almost all women,” Lee said. She added that the steep gender gap in the field, “was so different than what we experience.”

Encouraging students to attend the conference is one of the ways Stanford has been celebrating and helping to increase the rising number of women computer science majors.

“A commitment was collectively made by the department and students to address the number of women in the major,” Lee said. “[The department] fosters a sense of community by building connections between women in different years.”

Lee also added that the school has been making efforts to “look at the introductory [computer science] sequence as a funnel, not a filter.” This way, more students would not turn away from the major in fear of being “weeded out.”

“This past year approximately 30 percent of all the students who declared CS as their major are women,” Sahami said.

Zhao also weighed in on the growing number of women computer scientists. “I haven’t really felt too much of the gender divide, [Stanford’s]  generally a supportive place [for women in the field],” said Zhao. 

Stanford Women in Computer Science (WiCS) offers many students the opportunity to attend the conference. Students must fill out an application to attend by the May before the event and if selected, must then register by June. Students who are selected are given grants for the conference registration itself as well as hotel and transportation accommodations.  The Computer Science Department as well as the conference itself offers scholarships to students, with priority given to computer science majors. Stanford students have been attending the conference for the past decade.

The Grace Hopper Convention is a reflection of computer science as a quickly growing and important field, particularly at Stanford.

“CS really empowers students to use technology to have a big impact in the world and has great applicability in many, many domains,” Sahami said.


Contact Arielle Rodriguez at arielle3 ‘at’ stanford.edu.