Six female computer science students at the University of New Orleans received scholarships to participate in the 2017 Grace Hopper Celebration, an event described by its organizers as “the world's largest gathering of women technologists.” It is named for Grace Hopper, a pioneer of computer programming in the 1940s and rear admiral in the U.S. Navy.
Attending from UNO were juniors Rachel Matthew, Reecha Khanal, Eresha Polite, Banan Ibrahim and Jenny Le and senior Thanh Nguyen. Scholarships were funded in part by a 2016 crowdfunding campaign supporting UNO efforts to promote the work of women in technology. Additional support came from the UNO Women in Computer Science Scholarship, of which Ibrahim and Nguyen are recipients. This award is made possible by alumna Sabrina Farmer, a 1995 computer science graduate who works at Google.
The 2017 Grace Hopper Celebration, held earlier this month in Orlando, Fla., featured keynote addresses from Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Fei-Fei Li, director of Stanford University’s artificial intelligence laboratory and chief scientist for Google Cloud’s artificial intelligence/markup language endeavors. Three days of conference activities included professional development workshops, presentations on a variety of cutting-edge technology topics, exploration of open-source programming, a career fair and student poster sessions. Among the events sponsors are GE Digital and Google.
“I learned a lot at the conference, but my main takeaway is not to shy away from opportunities just because they seem intimidating or too competitive,” Ibrahim said.
According to Mahdi Abdelguerfi, professor and chair of the computer science department at UNO, information technology is one of the fastest-growing job sectors in Louisiana. He says there is a great demand for software developers in New Orleans.
“The UNO computer science department is strongly committed to supporting growth in our local technology industry, including increasing diversity in the field,” Abdelguerfi said. “This is the fourth consecutive year that UNO students participated in the Grace Hopper Celebration.”
"Students who attend this event typically come back with more confidence in their decision to pursue a career in computer science,” said Ted Holmberg, industry liaison for the UNO computer science department. For example, attendees from a previous Grace Hopper event were inspired to establish a women’s chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM-W) on UNO’s campus. Several of this year’s conference participants are members or officers in the campus organization and will use what they learned at the conference to improve campus initiatives aimed at supporting women in technology.
“The conference helped me discover ways to increase the retention rate of women in our department,” said Nguyen, an ACM-W officer.