Twenty-five percent of the students in the College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM) are women, and that fact points to an important trend:
“The importance of women — in computer science, information systems, software engineering, game development, really in every part of the field — is only growing,” says Theresa Steinbach, associate professor. “ At DePaul, we support our female students, not just because of our institutional commitment to fairness and diversity, but because they are the next generation of technology leaders in industry, academia, and the government.”
One way CDM encourages its female students is through organizations, such as ACM-W*, HerCDM, and Digital Divas (a description of each is at the end of this article).
Another way is through participation in an important industry conference — the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing — sponsored by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).
The annual meeting promotes the interests of women in the field by bringing together dynamic speakers and prominent researchers, potential employers, and college students (graduate and undergraduate) for three days of idea sharing and networking. The trips are funded by David Miller, dean of the College of Computing and Digital Media. To be chosen to attend, a student has to write a brief essay about her expectations of the event.
In 2010, the theme of the conference was collaboration, and the DePaul student chapter of the ACM-W organized and hosted a workshop to illustrate the real-world benefits and challenges of teamwork. Steinbach describes the exercise: “Seventy women signed up for our session. Working in small groups, they had to build a tangible artifact of a theorem — in this case, an origami paper sculpture. In fact, completing the project was impossible without close coordination — the exercise was a big, big success!” To last year’s conference in Portland, Oregon, Steinbach took 10 students — five undergraduate and five graduate. Two of the 10 were online students from California who got to meet their cohorts for first time.
“These conferences are empowering for our women students,” Steinbach says. “Rather than being the single women in a room full of men — which can happen in the classroom or in the workplace — they’re surrounded by professional women and students just like them. The conference is a great way to hear inspirational speakers, to research job opportunities, and to network with other women in computing.”
Stephanie Feeney (MS ’12), chair of the ACM-W student chapter at DePaul, agrees: “The Grace Hopper conference — and ACM-W in general — shows female students that they’re not alone in the field, which is important since working in a male-dominated profession can be isolating. Participating in the ACM-W chapter on campus lets students explore our academic, professional, and personal interests, while the conference allows us to learn and make the connections that can lead to job opportunities. It’s good to see so many women in the field.”
Michelle Ludwig (BS ’12), a student coordinator for HerCDM attended the conference in 2011 and 2010: “Four years ago, there were hardly any women in my field, which is videogame design and development. Now, that’s changing. The Grace Hopper conferences are massive! Overall, meeting professionals gave me practice in introducing myself, sharing my interests and credentials, and asking for information from potential employers.”
“Last but not least, participating in the Grace Hopper conference — and in sponsoring students organizations like ACM-W — is the opportunity to raise awareness of DePaul’s computing programs with a broader audience,” adds Steinbach.
Organizations for female students in CDM
DePaul ACM-W initiates and promotes opportunities that lead to academic success, career growth, and personal enrichment. A student-led organization, ACM-W develops and sponsors programs of special interest to women, while providing a supportive culture for idea sharing, networking, and socializing.
HerCDM builds community through special events and programs. Weekly meetings give female students in CDM a chance to collaborate on work for classes, to chat or vent with peers, and to interact with women who have already completed a course of study.
Digital Divas sponsors programs that provide networking opportunities, hosts speakers from industry, and mentors members in technical and communication skills.
* ACM is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, delivering resources that advance computing as a science and a profession. ACM-W (ACM’s Women in Computing) celebrates, informs, and supports women in computing, working with computer scientists, educators, employers, and policy makers to improve working and learning environments for women. The student chapters of ACM-W serve to increase recruitment and retention of women in computing fields at the university level.