Students and faculty within the School of Information Technology (IT) were presented with an opportunity to attend the Grace Hopper Conference this year, a major event that presents research, sparks conversation, provides networking opportunities, and supports women in the field of information technology.

This year’s conference featured keynote speakers that included professional tennis player Serena Williams and professional soccer player Megan Rapinoe. The list of additional keynote and featured speakers is extensive, along with the various sessions focusing on different topics within the field of IT that attendees could take advantage of.

Students and faculty within the school were able to attend the conference with the help of sponsorship donations paid by Caterpillar and AFNI.

“The donations were initially made to support our student leadership conference. Once it was canceled, both donors said to hold the money and help identify another opportunity. When I presented them with this, they both were enthusiastic,” said Dr. Traci Carte, director of the School of IT.

As a senior cybersecurity major and president of the Women in IT student organization, Casey Johnson was one of the students who was particularly excited to attend the conference for the first time.

“Students should be attending conferences to continue to challenge themselves outside of the classroom but should also focus on attending conferences that they are passionate about. For me, this conference is perfect because I am passionate about supporting women in technology and that is the overarching theme of the Grace Hopper Conference,” she said.

Johnson explained that while attending conferences virtually can be an adjustment at first, the experience is extremely beneficial, especially to students. She appreciated the fact that she did not have to worry about funds for traveling and took advantage of the speaker sessions, which were recorded and made available to attendees for up to two months after the event.

“As a student, this was perfect because I didn’t miss out on speakers due to having class or other conflicts,” said Johnson, “Because of this, I was able to prioritize the workshops. I attended a workshop on project management where we got to hear user cases for an application and transform those user experiences into a vision board to prioritize new features for an application. It’s so important to be mindful to exposing yourself to as many topics, skills, and ideas as you can. This conference was an amazing way to drive that education in new topics and mindsets.”

Sayali Ahirrao is an information systems graduate student, who also attended the Grace Hopper Conference for the first time this year. She found herself appreciating the practice of attending conferences in a virtual environment and felt more prepared to prioritize which sessions she would want to attend in a future virtual event.

Students were not the only attendees to benefit from the conference.

Dr. Mary Elaine Califf, an associate professor in the School of IT, also attended for the first time. She noted that it was different than her experiences in the past, and that she missed the in-person interaction that is typical in a conference setting. She added that she did notice efforts to promote interaction and enjoyed the fact that she could balance teaching responsibilities with her attendance.

Califf explains that the opportunity to attend conferences like Grace Hopper are important and beneficial for all students and faculty members, not just women within information technology.

“For female faculty and students, I think it’s particularly valuable as a reminder that even though numbers of women in computing disciplines in any particular university may be relatively small, there are many, many women in our fields across the globe. It’s a rare opportunity to interact with a significant number of women with our interests. For students, particularly, it can be a great source of encouragement in challenging fields where they often feel alone because they may be the only woman in their IT classes at a time,” she said.

“For other faculty and students, I think it’s a great opportunity to learn more about the realities and challenges facing women in the field and to learn more so that they can better contribute to solutions to the problem facing women in computing in our society.”

Does a major within the School of Information Technology sound interesting to you? Check out their website for more information on majors, student organizations, and future opportunities.

To learn more about the Grace Hopper Conference, visit the website and check out previous speakers, sessions, and upcoming events.