People of SU / Science / Technology and Health

Donor Support Opens Doors for Underrepresented Female Students in Tech

October 21, 2020

Graphic from 2020 Virtual Grace Hopper Conference

Image credit: Grace Hopper Conference / Anita B. Org

Since 2018, 10 female students enrolled in Seattle University’s Computer Science Program have received scholarships to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), an annual conference described as the world’s largest gathering of women technologists from around the world. 

Due to the pandemic, this year’s conference was virtual and thanks to Seattle U donor contributions, 45 students were able to take part in this unique opportunity, representing both Computer Science (CS) and Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE).

“What’s unique about this event is that representation matters … having some of the most renowned female-identifying tech and tech-adjacent leaders speaking and sharing their journeys into this realm helps attendees feel less alone in the tech field,” says Sheila Oh, director of the Computer Science Fundamentals Certificate Program. “It’s an amazing opportunity.”

CS held several events prior to the five-day conference to help prepare students. With 33,000 attendees from more than 115 countries, hundreds of sessions, numerous keynotes, an open source day and networking opportunities, “regardless of the format, it can be an overwhelming experience, particularly for those attending a conference for the first time,” Oh says.

According to National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), women represented 57 percent in all professional occupations in the U.S., yet hold only 26 percent of computing and mathematical occupations as of 2019.

“Inclusivity in a business sense helps the bottom line. Having women in the entire pipeline … there also are allies and potential allies that need to brought into this conversation because just like with women’s issues, this is not something that only women should be working on,” Oh says. “This is a systemic issue that needs to be addressed on the student, departmental, college and university levels … a culture shift and making sure everyone is onboard with this type of support is necessary to make sure everyone’s voice is heard.”

Along with the GHC, students have networking opportunities at Seattle U through the student-led ACM-W club (Association for Computing Machinery-Women), along with identifying the club’s priorities, says Oh, who also serves as club advisor.

Ana Carolina De Souza Mendes,’21, CSF certificate student and conference scholarship recipient, notes that the scholarship made a huge impact on her life. “I keep working hard every single day to carve my path into the tech field,” she says. “If that's your passion, keep in mind it will be hard, but you’ll have a support system by connecting with other women in the field. GHC and ACM-W at Seattle U have provided me with the environment to do so.”

Oh reports CSE—recognized for having 42 percent of female faculty—has seen above average numbers in its graduate population’s female representation. With the CSF certificate program, the female population ranges between a third to 40 percent, which is a big feeder into the Master of Science in Computer Science program (MSCS).

“Part of that has to do with removing barriers to entering the certificate program; normally a bachelor’s degree in the field is needed to get into the MSCS program,” explains Oh. “We’re leveling the playing field” by considering any bachelor’s degree for the certificate program. Currently, 50 percent of students who enroll in the program are non-STEM majors.

“The stereotypical idea of a tech person doesn’t exist anymore,” Oh says. Soon “every company is going to be a tech company in some regard. Whether it’s selling tires or dresses, there needs to be some tech component in order to compete. Whatever your interests or background … bringing diverse voices to the conversation can actually help bring a different perspective.”