Computer Science Student and Professor Present at International Grace Hopper Conference

csconference_002As a female pioneer in computer science, the legacy of U.S. Navy Admiral Grace Hopper lives on in women like computer science senior Autumn Breese and assistant professor Dr. Monisha Pulimood, who joined approximately 1,600 professionals, educators, and students in a celebration of women in computing at the leading conference for women in the field.

The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference was co-founded in 1994 by Dr. Anita Borg and Dr. Telle Whitney to honor Hopper and aims both to celebrate the considerable achievements of women in the field as well as to inspire, educate, and create awareness of opportunities for women in computer science. The 2009 conference was held in Tucson, Arizona from September 30 to October 3.

Accustomed to attending conferences where women are in the minority, Pulimood says that one of the best parts of this conference was simply being able to interact with so many female computing professionals in one location. “It provided a place for professors, researchers, industry professionals along with graduate and undergraduate students to all come together and exchange ideas and thoughts about what’s going on in the computing field,” said Pulimood. “There was a lot of mentoring and networking going on, and they were really two key elements of the conference.” In addition to meeting leading professionals in the field and receiving one-on-one advice from faculty about graduate school, Breese says she unknowingly had the amazing opportunity to talk with Fran Allen, the first woman to receive the Turing Award, widely regarded as the “Nobel Prize of computing.”

Pulimood and Breese participated together in a panel session entitled, “The Best Way: Research by Undergraduates,” which also featured Dr. Andrea Danyluk, co-chair of the Collaborative Research Experience for Undergraduates (CREU) program, and Dr. Jan Cuny, program director at the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) program. Addressing the topic from a faculty perspective, Pulimood explained the advantages of being involved in undergraduate research, while Breese spoke from the student perspective of one who has significant experience in research, including undergraduate research experiences at TCNJ through the CREU program and at two off-campus Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs.

Pulimood noted it was particularly exciting to present with these two prominent women because their programs have provided amazing experiences for undergraduates at The College of New Jersey. As mentioned above, Breese participated in the CREU program last year, working with Dr. Peter DePasquale, assistant professor of computer science at TCNJ.  In addition, Pulimood, along with associate professor of computer science Dr. Ursula Wolz and associate professor of English Dr. Kim Pearson, are collaboratively heading a multidisciplinary CREU project involving three students, one each from computer science, interactive multimedia, and journalism.

Furthermore, Pulimood moderated another panel session, “Best Practices for Introductory Computer Science,” with faculty from other institutions that discussed the use of non-traditional teaching techniques, tools, and curricular approaches to reach a wider audience of potential computer science students. She said the collective purpose was to identify the range of learning environments that attract women and other underrepresented groups to the discipline in a manner that does not “dumb down” what and how it is taught.

Both Pulimood and Breese agreed that the conference was a great way to inspire and recognize women in a field where they are in the definite minority. “It was definitely encouraging for me to attend this conference and see so many women in computer science. I don’t understand why there aren’t more,” explained Breese. “I think sometimes the fact that computer science is a male-dominated field keeps it male-dominated because women are intimidated.”

“It is not that men are all running around like cave-man saying ‘Ugh, get out girls,’” she said with a laugh. “But I feel that if we could send every freshmen girl to a conference like this one, they would see how many women there really are and that they can be successful just like them.”

Pulimood plans on attending next year, primarily because she has a CREU grant that funds the three students working on the CREU project to accompany her. In the vein of Breese’s comment, however, she hopes to obtain funding so that more women within the computer science department can attend the Grace Hopper conference in the future.

View article on TCNJ’s School of Science website

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