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First CWIC Southern California draws two hundred

The regional conference included speakers, student and faculty presentations, posters, workshops and a career fair


Students and professionals from a half-dozen universities and corporations converged on Santa Ana, CA in mid-April for the first Celebration of Women in Computing in Southern California (CWIC-SoCal).

The event was one of a dozen 2012 regional celebrations sponsored by the Grace Hopper Regional Consortium (ghregionalconsortium.org). With funding from the National Science Foundation and Microsoft Research, the consortium has underwritten a growing number of regional conferences since 2008. The events are modeled on the national Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC).

Consortium members are the Association for Computing Machinery's Council on Women in Computing, the National Center for Women & Information Technology, and the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Computing (ABI), presenter of the GHC.

Nearly 200 students, professionals and faculty members showed up for CWIC SoCal. Four University of California schools, UC-Irvine, UC-San Diego, UC-Riverside and UC-Santa Barbara, plus Harvey Mudd College and Pomona College, were academic sponsors. Students and faculty from a number of other schools also worked on conference committees, and attended. CWIC-SoCal was the first regional celebration in Southern California.

Information and inspiration
The conference started on a Saturday morning and ended early Sunday afternoon. In between, participants attended student and faculty presentations, workshops and panels on open source projects, career tracks in computing, grad school choices, and much more.

One well-received session brought all the attendees together for a two-hour workshop on vocal and presentation skills by Nancy Houfek, head of voice and speech at Harvard University's American Repertory Theater. In a series of exercises and demonstrations, Houfek encouraged conference participants to use their voices and body language to get and hold an audience's attention. A speaker whose voice and gestures convey confidence, engagement and energy, she explained, can trigger positive "mirror neuron" activity in the brains of audience members, and even affect the body chemistry of the speaker herself. Houfek had the audience on its feet, learning expansive gestures, breathing techniques and vocal strategies to "fake it til you make it" in front of a roomful of people.

Advice on careers and writing
A panel of industry professionals talked about their own careers, and took questions from interested students. Alice Pang, a "developer evangelist" at Microsoft, described her early ambitions to be a "dancer, teacher, reporter and travel the world," and how they led to her career in engineering.

Janet Kayfetz, a linguist and teacher of academic writing at the University of California-Santa Barbara, led a workshop in the basics of academic writing. "We want excellent science and excellent writing," she explained. Though good writing can't make up for bad science, bad writing can definitely reduce the impact of even the most ground-breaking research.

Barbara Gee, VP of programs for ABI, led a workshop on coping with the "impostor syndrome," a mindset that can be a barrier to women's advancement in mostly male fields.

Stories from Mars
The speaker at the closing luncheon was Ashley Stroupe, a Harvey Mudd College graduate and a senior engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. She was the first woman "rover driver," and was involved in the Mars Exploration Project.

Co-chairs of the conference were Debra Richardson, professor of informatics at UC-Irvine and Z Sweedyk, associate professor of CS at Harvey Mudd.

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