This fall, the computational modeling and data analytics (CMDA) program, sponsored six students – seniors Mallika Gupta, Esha Islam, Leila Massjouni, Zaineb Qadri, Emaan Rahman and Isha Singh – who attended the 2023 Grace Hopper Celebration, held in Orlando, Florida.

Presented by and the Association of Computing Machinery, the Grace Hopper Celebration is the world’s largest gathering of women technologists, where women from around the world learn, network, and celebrate their achievements.

Since 2018, the CMDA program — part of the Academy of Data Science in the College of Science — has sponsored student attendance at the annual Grace Hopper Celebration, aided by the generous donations of program alumni and friends. The sponsorship includes conference registration, hotel accommodations, and round-trip airfare.

“Having this funding eliminates the financial constraint for our students,” said Leanna House, deputy director of the CMDA program and chair of the scholarship selection committee. “In our opinion, it evens the playing field that we’re able to offer this particular opportunity for everyone regardless of financial abilities.”

Students are selected for the CMDA sponsorship through an application process. Open to all CMDA majors, consideration for the recipients is based on a variety of factors, including CV, record of engagement in the community, and justification for why the students wishes to attend the conference.

“I was interested in attending the Grace Hopper Celebration for multiple reasons — the exposure to the well respected and known companies that were attending the conference, being able to hear from empowering women, and potential job opportunities,” said Qadri.

A career fair was a big draw for participants, while networking opportunities were another valuable aspect of the conference.

“I attended a community meet-up session where I met and talked to women with Pakistani backgrounds, which was very interesting to me because I got to meet people with a similar background to myself,” said Rahman. “When I met these women, they helped me navigate the career fair as most of them were older than me and they were familiar faces in the huge crowds in the career fair.”

Another session, titled “Demystifying the Illusions: Bridging the Gap Between Campus Life and Corporate Realities,” featured two women at Bank of America who have advanced into leadership roles in technology. They encouraged the attendees to connect with other individuals at their table, focusing on the things each person had in common as well as the things that were unique about each one.

“I got to meet seven other girls who had so many similarities with me, but also had such different experiences,” said Massjouni. “The session was also helpful because it showed me that so many people were having doubts of whether they would be good enough for the corporate world, if they belong here, and other hints of imposter syndrome. The speakers emphasized these were totally normal feelings to have, but then explained to us how we could conquer our doubts.”

The Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) was created in 1994 to honor the legacy of Rear Adm. Grace Hopper, one of the first women to receive a doctorate in mathematics. A member of the U.S. Naval Reserve, Hopper worked on the Mark I computer during World War II, while moving to the more advanced Mark II and Mark III computers after the war. She also helped create the first compiler for computer languages and, in 1991, she was the first female recipient of the National Medal of Technology.

“The importance of this event is to be inspired and empowered by women that were in the same shoes as us,” said Qadri. “Being able to make meaningful connections and [developing] a different or enlightened mindset is a reason CMDA students should attend.”

“I think this event is important because it gives you opportunities that are specific to GHC and it helps you get ahead of other applicants in the process of applications for internships and/or full-time positions. I met wonderful people and recruiters that helped me realize what I want to pursue in the future and how to stand out as an applicant," Rahman added.

“Overall, I am very grateful for the opportunity I got to hear from prominent women in STEM, see what job opportunities I can look for in the future, and bond with other girls in my major at Virginia Tech,” said Massjouni.

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