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Grace Hopper Celebration: CS@UI Debrief

Kyle Rector & Denise Szecsei with students Heather Kemp, Huyen Le, Qi Qi & Elizabeth Zak in front of GHC #wearehere backdrop

The Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), the world's largest gathering of women technologists, is produced by AnitaB.org and presented in partnership with ACM. GHC 18 took place Sep. 26–28 in Houston, TX.

Professors Kyle Rector and Denise Szecsei travelled to GHC with UI students Heather Kemp (CS MCS), Huyen Le (CS PhD), Qi Qi (CS PhD), and Elizabeth Zak (Informatics PhD). Some of their thoughts, looking back, follow:

1)      Had you been to Grace Hopper before?

Kemp: Yes, I attended the Grace Hopper Celebration last year as an AnitaB.org scholar.

Qi: I had never been grace hopper before.

Rector: Yes, this is my sixth Grace Hopper Conference.

2)      What or who has left a most lasting impression as you look back on the event?

Kemp: Each of the presenters at the sessions that I went to really stuck with me, especially the keynote. Each woman had a great amount of impact, not only in their ability to inspire others (including myself) but also in the very work that they did. They didn't all have to start out from big tech sectors or backgrounds though. Many of them were non-traditional starters, and seeing their journeys to success has just made our own chances at success seem that much more within reach. I definitely think that Jessica O Matthews, who is the founder of Uncharted Power and one of the keynotes, had the most impact on me. Her overflowing charisma was noticable even from the top of the stadium as she showed off her projects which allow people in third world countries to generate power while doing fun physical activities. She offered to demonstrate her jump rope, which would power lights for hours with just a few jumps, on stage, and without skipping a beat said "And, yes, I can jump rope in heels."

Qi: The conference provided a really amazing platform for female engineering and scientist in computer science. We share our experience both in industrial and academic area.

Rector: Connecting with people at Microsoft who work on problems similar to my research!

3)      Have you positively connected with anyone in particular (e.g. a fellow student/researcher)?

Kemp: During a mixed reality workshop, I met with a woman who worked at HP who I'm now connected with on LinkedIn. It turns out we will be working in the same area in Seattle next summer, and so we'll be meeting up to talk about where our journey's have taken us since GHC and the different areas of tech that we're interested in. I also met a professor from the University of Wisconsin in a robotics workshop who leads their Girls Who Code initiative and have been in contact with her helping with their Arduino lesson plans with some of my own notes. It was great to not only find someone so close but to be able to provide my experiences and knowledge as a resource someone so close to home. Last, but certainly not least, I also met up with many video game companies and professionals who have expressed great interest in our university and events, and so if all goes as planned, we'll be seeing more of these big names here on campus with the connections we've made at GHC. 

Qi: I met a girl who has 6 high-quality publications in her 4th PHD year during the event held by Facebook. She gives me lots of suggestions which are extremely helpful for my future PHD career and I really appreciate it.

Rector: Yes, see #2.

4)      Could you share a few “lessons learned” with our readers?

Kemp: I think the best way to describe my 'lessons learned' is through two impactful quotes I heard and/or were referred to while at GHC. The first was from Jessica O Matthews in person, which was "Just because it's not part of your plan doesn't mean that it's not part of your destiny." The second was a quote recited from Theodore Roosevelt which was "Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground."

Qi: I thought the most important lesson I learned from the conference is “Be confident, Be yourself, and Work Hard,” “Eyes on the stars, feet on the ground.”

Rector: Building and maintaining your network is crucial; regardless of similarity of one’s interests or career paths. You never know when you will run into someone again. Following this mantra helped me get a research internship in graduate school!

5)      What would you say were the biggest advantages of attending?

Kemp: My immediate thought is the experience of just being around thousands of amazing women in tech. Being in rooms filled to the brim with strong, impactful women in our industry is just an unforgettable experience that you may not get or see for a long time until the gender gap is closed. There's really just something vibrant and meaningful about it, not just knowing but also feeling that you're really not as along as the industry or academia may make you think you are. On a professional level, GHC has also provided so many amazing opportunities for networking, not just in the career sense, but also in the academic, mentorship, and general friendship sense. I know the connections I've made at GHC will continue with me as I start and proceed through my professional career.

Qi: Another big advantages of the conference is its job fair event, almost all the big companies attended the job fair, and provided lots of job opportunities both for internship and full time job.

Rector: The ability to network with other researchers and industries, being around a supportive group of technical women, and connecting with close friends.

6)      Has GHC sparked new thoughts for success of female in tech at Iowa?

Kemp: I think having an event similar to GHC, but definitely no where near that scale, at Iowa would be great. The notion of a 'celebration' where we all can get together for a meal or two to not only just talk but also hear about what other research/projects/etc we're doing would be amazing. It could even turn into a bit of a spotlight series where we could meet and connect with inspirational women in our area, and maybe even get some mentors out of it.

Qi: One of the main thoughts of the conference is that “Women should always support each other,” so for female in tech at Iowa we can exchange our ideas and thoughts to help each other. This would contribute a lot to the women in tech at Iowa.

Rector: I think it would be good for other undergraduate and graduate women to have the opportunity to attend the Grace Hopper Conference. In addition, having WiCS meetings at different days and times to be more inclusive of the women in our department.