Stories

Grace Hopper Conference

If there is one thing women in the STEM fields recommend, it’s attending Grace Hopper, the world’s largest convergence of female technologists. This past October, four computer science majors from the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science did just that, flying to Houston, Texas to attend the all-expenses-paid conference— compliments of their department, through the generosity of alumni and friends who support the professional development of our students.

“Going to Grace Hopper was one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had, both professionally and personally,” says Christiane Kotero ’16 (in photo, center). “I have never been around so many passionate women in engineering before in my life.”

Because these computer science majors also take School of Engineering courses, faculty from different disciplines are able to impact students across the College and the School, ultimately enlarging the STEM footprint at SCU.

“Computing is an area in which women are significantly under-represented, so I believe role models are really important,” says Associate Professor of Computer Engineering Silvia Figueira, who helps both computer engineering and computer science students secure a conference spot. “At Grace Hopper, our students see women who are leaders in industry, academia, and research labs. They come back really inspired, and that motivates me to do it again.”

For Kotero, watching Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, deliver a passionate keynote speech was one of the highlights of the conference. “She gave all of us the great advice to end every day on a positive note, no matter what, by writing down at least three things we did well that day,” she says. “She also encouraged all of us to stay in technology and continue helping out other women in the field. It was great to be able to share this experience with other Santa Clara students.”

In addition to Grace Hopper, Kotero participated in the Global Social Benefit Fellowship through the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, which helped to “mesh” her technical skills with her passion for social innovation. “Not many people get to experience this opportunity at other schools,” she says.

During this fellowship, Kotero traveled to Kolkata, India to study how engaging in machine learning tasks affects the self-efficacy of employees working for social entrepreneurship iMerit Technology Services. Throughout the project, Mathematics and Computer Science Lecturer Natalie Linnell served as Kotero’s research mentor, ultimately encouraging her to attend the conference.

“I know the first time I went to Grace Hopper, I found myself completely overwhelmed with emotion. Staring out at the sea of technical women surrounding me, I felt like I belonged in this field,” recalls Linnell. “Allowing our students to meet women who've done this already, and to have a space to talk about the challenges they face as women, could really help us keep our own students in the field through graduation and beyond.”