UMD Diversity in Computing Summit Strikes Home for Two Attendees

Mon Nov 07, 2016

Two local college students attending the Diversity in Computing Summit at the University of Maryland today said the event was a powerful experience, speaking directly to their interests as women looking to enter the field upon completing their degrees.

The inaugural event, presented by the Maryland Center for Women in Computing, drew more than 200 participants. The goal, event organizers say, was to offer informative workshops and dynamic speakers that emphasized inclusive computing—efforts that address the positive impact that underrepresented groups have and will continue to have on the future of technology.

Favour Nerrise (on right in photo), a UMD junior and computer engineering major, says the event appealed to her because of its focus on reaching out to women.

“I’m really passionate about the movement of recruiting and retaining women in technology,” she says. “It’s great to have the opportunity to celebrate the fact that there is this current push for diversity, and that there are all of these programs out there aimed at bridging the gender gap.”

The summit featured a number of breakout sessions led by tech professionals, including UMD faculty members, and followed four tracks: Developing a Diverse Corporate Culture, Emerging Technology, The Future of Computing: Trends in Policy and Outreach, and Career Development and Personal Advocacy.

Ruthe Farmer, senior policy advisor for tech inclusion at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, gave the morning’s keynote address.

Nerrise says she was especially interested in attending sessions on intersectional feminism, mentoring computer professionals from diverse backgrounds, and how to address the common barriers to success for women in technology.

Nerrise, who has loved computer engineering from an early age, says her plans after finishing her undergraduate degree are to pursue a doctorate and possibly form a startup company.

Yijun Hu (left in photo), a junior and computer science major at Johns Hopkins University, says she was looking forward to networking with other attendees and hoped the event would help her make a decision about her life post-graduation.

“I’m having difficulty deciding between going to graduate school and going into the industry, so one of the things I am hoping to gain out of being here today is a better direction,” she says.

Hu attended the event on the advice of her adviser at Hopkins’ Laboratory for Computational Sensing and Robotics, where she serves as a research assistant.

She says she is hoping to bring what she learns from the summit back to the lab, where she and her colleagues are working to put together a summer robotics course for area middle and high school students.

“Most kids around Baltimore don’t have the access to these types of computer science-level courses, so we are trying to make this type of educational experience more readily accessible to them,” Hu says. “I think it will be really cool, both for the students and for the people that are teaching them.”

—By Melissa Brachfeld