Logo: University of Southern California

Six from USC Attend Women in Computing Conference

CS Department, WiSE, and Viterbi join forces to send students to annual gathering
Eric Mankin
November 06, 2007 —
"I invent the future" was conference theme
Six Viterbi women journeyed to Orlando, Florida October 17-20 for the Grace Murray Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the seventh installment of the annual event. This year's theme" "I invent the future."

The Department of Computer Science joined with the USC Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) and Viterbi's Undergraduate and Masters' Student Affairs Offices to pay all expenses for the sextet, whose participation was organized by CS research associate professor Mary Hall, also an ISI project leader, and Steve Schrader, the CS Director of Undergraduate Affairs.

"It is a wonderful opportunity for these women students to be surrounded by more than a thousand successful women in their field and see the myriad career opportunities opening up to women in computing," said Hall.

Hall singled out others who contributed: "the generous funding provided by WiSE, CS chair Ramesh Govindan, and Carolyn Suckow and Louise Yates in Viterbi; by the coordination efforts of the CS departmental staff, and in particular, Shirley Chan and Sherri Fagan; and through fundraising assistance from Urbashi Mitra, Chair of the WiSE Viterbi Committee and Professor of Electrical Engineering."

The CS department selected the women on the basis of essays submitted, saying why they wanted to attend.

The group included undergrad Roxanna Aliabadi, masters candidates students Yoonji Kim and Jin Huang; and PhD aspirants Leila Kaghazian, Rutu Mehta and Bo Mi Song.

The conference, co-sponsored by the Anita Borg Institute For Women and Technology and the Association For Computing Machinery brings together prominent women computer scientists from the industrial, academic and government communities. One feature not often seen at other computer conferences: a nursing mothers room and childcare - hosted for the 2007 conference by computer security specialists Symantec.

Following the conference Kaghazian wrote a letter of thanks to Hall and Govindan:

"The conference was such a great opportunity for me to meet a lot of wonderful female industry executives, faculties, engineers and peer students not only from United States, but also from so many different countries. I couldn't belive that some people flew from Asia and Africa just to attend the conference.

Viterbi CS graduate students Yoonji Kim (left) and Bo Mi Song helped to invent the future at the Hopper conference
"There were so many corporations and universities who sponsored the conference including IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Cisco, Sun, Google, UC Berkeley, CalTech, CMU, Purdue, South Hampton and a few more. All the female PhD students from  UC Berkeley CS/EE departments and all the female graduate female students from Texas A&M were funded from their departments to attend the conference."

Kim also found the experience beneficial: "The event was much larger than I thought…  and the program schedule was very organized. The panels who came from diverse area and various levels of experience gave talks and had time to discuss the questions that audiences asked," she wrote.

"From the talk I heard, I got lots of useful information to prepare and decide my next steps. I hope and recommend that more USC CS women attend the conference."

Mehta was equally enthusiastic: "It was inspiring to find successful women leading large groups in companies like Microsoft and Cisco out there talking about their life and experiences. I enjoyed the technical and non-technical talks.The non-technical talks made it more special, as such things are hard to learn in any other conference by people of such high qualifications and technical stature.

Continued Mehta: "I specifically enjoyed the talk on 'how to survive grad school,' and wish I could have attended it while I was still pursuing my undergraduate studies. This conference made me realize that though women have progressed from the last 50 years, we all still face the same problems in life, and it is a good thing to acknowledge them and learn from our part mistakes."

This was the second year that a delegation of USC computer scientists attended the Hopper gathering. Read an account of last years' group's expertience at http://viterbi.usc.edu/news/news/2006/five-viterbi-students.htm

According to the event program, "the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2007 is the seventh in a series of conferences designed to bring the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront. Presenters are leaders in their respective fields, representing industrial, academic and government communities. Leading researchers present their current work, while special sessions focus on the role of women in today's technology fields, including computer science, information technology, research and engineering."

Networking: Rutu Mehta with three colleagues from the University of  Illinois
Keynote speakers at the conference included Donna Dubinsky, founder, chief executive officer, and board chair of Numenta; and Maria Klawe, a computer scientist who is now president of Harvey Mudd College.

Admiral Grace Brewster Murray Hopper (1906-1992), the conference 's namesake, pioneered the development of computers, continued her career in the navy, and is likely the only mathematician in American history to have had a warship (a destroyer) named after her. She is one of several candidates as the author of the quote “It's always easier to apologize than to ask permission.”

She also noted: “The nice thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose from.” A complete biography is at http://www.sdsc.edu/ScienceWomen/hopper.html