Scholarships enrich computer scientists' global perspectives
February 8, 2022
Virginia Tech Giving Day 2022 lasts 24 hours starting at noon, EST, on Feb. 23. But the impact of donations is evident every day, all across the university and throughout the many communities we serve, as shown by the story below.
Gather tens of thousands of motivated technologists to network, learn, and grow, and undoubtedly, there is magic.
"Creativity and innovation have no limits," said computer science graduate student Blessy Antony, on attending her first-ever Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Computing in 2021. "The innovation world is expanding at unimaginable levels and this was proven by the lightning talks, posters, and tech sessions at the conference."
The GHC was founded in 1994 by Anita Borg and Telle Whitney as a way to honor Rear Admiral Grace Hopper’s legacy and inspire future generations of women in tech. Her expertise allowed her to join the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War II to work on the Mark I computer. After the war, she remained in the U.S. Navy as a reserve officer, working with the more advanced Mark II and Mark III computers.
For Antony, this was the first women-centric, technical conference she had participated, which also coincided with the beginning of graduate school in the United States. "My experience taught me that there are innumerable women in computing eager to help fellow budding technologists navigate through their struggles – both technical and those that arise from being part of an underrepresented community," said Antony.
Antony was one of 13 computer science students who attended the 2021 GHC, with all conference funds supported by scholarship support through the department's tech-talent community, CS|Source, which provides a pathway for department-industry partnerships. These collaborations encourage the development of students and resources to meet the current and future demands of society through technology.
Historically, the spark of GHC has been bringing together women in person from all backgrounds and career paths to share their experiences. For the last two years, the conference has moved to a virtual-only format. This opened the door for even more individuals to participate--to the tune of 30,000. It proved to be an incredibly impactful experience for computer science senior Laura Gautier.
"It was great to listen to so many powerful female leaders speak on accessibility, advocacy, and self-empowerment," said Gautier. "There’s been an increase of women and nonbinary people in computer science, but I still have a lot of classes that are mostly male." Coupled with the pandemic and living off campus, Gautier said it has made her feel somewhat isolated in the field.
"To see powerful women in leadership roles was inspiring and reminded me that I’m not alone. It was a much needed social experience," said Gautier.
The power of networking proved to be a valuable takeaway for Antony, and something she looks forward to implementing in the future. "I will look out for opportunities to advance my technical and soft skills through the various programs at Virginia Tech," she said. "Additionally, I have learned the importance of building and being a part of an active network. Building a network is extremely resourceful as it is a source of knowledge, opportunities, a window to the world outside your project and research work, and also a way to give back by helping others in your network."