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Grace Hopper celebration gathers women techies from around the world

The computing oriented event will host leading researchers, organizations and lots and lots of students in Colorado this October


Telle Whitney, Anita Borg president/CEO.'Building a better world” is the theme of the 2008 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC). It takes place October 1-4 at the Keystone Resort (Keystone, CO).

“We’ve asked women to share how they want to use technology to improve their world,” explains Deanna Kosaraju, program director for the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (www.anitaborg.org, Palo Alto, CA), and also for the Grace Hopper event.

The conference will bring more than 1,500 women from twenty-three countries to promote research in CS, IT and engineering: one of the larger women’s technical conferences in the world.
It’s also an opportunity for the women to network, do a little job hunting, and get inspired.

The GHC was started in 1994 by computer scientists Telle Whitney and Anita Borg. They wanted to celebrate the work of nationally recognized women in computing.

“Walking into that room the very first time to see and hear 500 women talking about technology was stunning and life changing,” Whitney says. “Now we’ve seen it happen time after time.”

Keynoters
Keynote speakers this year will include Fran Allen, IBM fellow emerita, and Mary Lou Jepson, founder and CTO of One Laptop Per Child (Cambridge, MA). Other speakers will be researchers from Yahoo!, Microsoft and AT&T. The Xerox and Intel CTOs are expected to attend. Participating schools include Carnegie Mellon (Pittsburgh, PA), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Washington.

Students are welcome

Technical women networking at last year’s Grace Hopper: “truly a culturally diverse get-together,” the program director declares. This level of participation is inspiring for the students who make up a large part of
the audience. “Universities send their students because they see the difference it makes,” Whitney says. “After attending GHC the young women are more likely to go on to grad school or consider careers in the industry.” Other students, she adds, have been inspired to go into research, or start their own women’s network back on campus.

GHC brings in some students on a scholarship grant which includes travel and lodging. Last year more than 900 students applied for the 115 scholarships. Google will get involved in the scholarships for the third year, awarding grants to CS students from undergrads to PhD candidates.

Pros tap a vast network
The conference has been such a success with students that a few years ago Whitney decided to work on expanding relationships with the technology industry.

“We’ve done an extraordinary job of soliciting ideas from that community,” she says. “We work with companies that support us with donations, and it’s a partnership! They want to change their organizations’ culture and one way to do it is by sending ten or twenty women to the conference.”

It helps with recruitment and retention as well. “Many of the companies use GHC as a way to bring their workforce together,” Whitney says. “Their participation shows their commitment to women, how they’re working on cutting-edge technology, and their commitment to making a change,” adds program director Kosaraju.

GHC’s Industry Advisory Board includes eleven partners; among them are IBM, Intel and Symantec.

Lead and learn
The four-day conference is packed with opportunities to lead and learn. Students and professionals will participate in a variety of activities that help foster a collaborative atmosphere.

For example, a PhD forum highlights CS and engineering research. Panels, workshops and presentations open the door to in-depth discussions about technology and careers. Poster sessions give students a chance to share with others. And the “birds of a feather” session draws a cross-section of specialists to discuss community issues.

This year’s panels will hit on fascinating topics like how your health can affect your career, and how to stay on a technical track while still rising high in your company. Workshops will delve into areas like nanotechnology and hardware.

Minority representation
A “women of color” luncheon was added to the program two years ago. The diversity of participants increases at GHC each year, Kosaraju points out.

“We have fifteen percent minority representation and forty-four percent of our women are from other countries,” she says. “It’s truly a culturally diverse get-together.”

Don’t miss the career fair
And what would a conference be without a career fair? GHC sponsors send their recruiters, and attendees can even start by participating in a resume workshop. “It’s a very relaxed, collegiate environment,” Kosaraju notes reassuringly.

As program director, Kosaraju works to create an atmosphere that’s about both women and technology. “We focus on providing both,” she says. Stay abreast of the latest developments, or register to attend the conference, at www.gracehopper.org.

About the ABI
Research is an important part of the Anita Borg Institute. The organization was originally founded by Borg herself; she called it the Institute for Women in Technology. It was renamed in Borg’s honor after she died in 2003; its mission remains the same. In addition to GHC, the institute has several awards programs during the year.

“The institute is committed to increasing the positive impact of technology on the world of women,” says Telle Whitney, who’s been president and CEO since 2003. “We do that through GHC and our Women of Vision awards, and we help to develop the next generation of technical leaders by bringing women together to learn from experts and each other. What better way to do that than through research?”

The institute works toward its mission in part by conducting original research and partnering with other organizations: the National Center for Women and IT, the Association for Computing Machinery, the IEEE and more.

Working with most of these organizations includes working with men. Why not? Men make up half of ABI’s board, and for a very good reason.

“If you want to make a difference, part of your effort will be to engage with the decision-makers of today. We need to work with men; they are part of the solution,” Whitney says
with a smile.

About Grace Hopper
The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing was named in honor of Grace Murray Hopper, the military officer who became one of the world’s earliest computer scientists as she worked on the first U.S. computer.

Hopper left her teaching position at Vassar to join the Navy in 1943. She was commissioned as an officer and eventually became a rear admiral. Her pioneering computing work led to the development of the programming language Cobol.

Hopper was a visionary, known to the public for her demonstrations on early TV of the distance (12 inches) electromagnetic waves travel in a nanosecond.

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