GHC 2023 student scholarships instill confidence and inspire

GHC 2023 Keynote opening. Photo credit: Breanna Powell

At the start of autumn quarter, 13 students from the School of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) Division of Computing & Software Systems (CSS) had more than just the first day of class on their mind — they were preparing to attend the largest gathering of women and non-binary technologists in computing.

Three students traveled to Orlando, Florida, to attend the 2023 Grace Hopper Women in Computing (GHC) conference in person and ten students logged on virtually. Students heard inspiring keynote speeches, attended workshops, expanded their network, met with company and higher education sponsors during the Career & Expo Hall, and felt empowered surrounded by a community of women and allies in the tech.

Increasing access and inspiring belief

The reality of attending a conference like GHC, especially out of state, feels out of reach for many students once they consider the costs to attend. Knowing this and recognizing the impact the GHC experience has on students is one of many reasons why the Division of CSS continues to sponsor the GHC conference every year and award full student scholarships to attend the conference in person or virtually.

For Greeshma Sree Parimi, a current Master of Science in Computer Science & Software Engineering (MSCSSE) student who attended GHC in person, the scholarship made the trip accessible. “It meant that I could fully immerse myself in the conference without the financial burden that often comes with attending such events,” she said.

Attending a large conference can also feel a bit overwhelming and intimidating. When Breanna Powell, a current MSCSSE student who graduated from the Graduate Certificate in Software Design & Development (GCSDD) bridge program at UW Bothell, learned she’d been awarded an in-person scholarship she felt a sense of validation.

Gresshma Sree Parimi posing in from of the conference entry doors with her badge around her neck.

“For me, it feels like people believe in me and my potential, even when I doubt myself,” said Powell.

Breanna Powell posing for a photo in front of the 2023 Grace Hopper Celebration, THE WAY FORWARD orange backdrop.

“It gave me the push that I needed to go out there and search for jobs and apply,” she said. “It also encourages me to keep hosting events on campus through the UW Bothell Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) club and the Alliance 4 Sustainability club, because making connections is vital.”

For me, it feels like people believe in me and my potential, even when I doubt myself.

Breanna Powell, current MSCSSE student and GCSDD alumna

Opportunity through conversation

Networking at conferences specializing in a student’s major can create opportunities and propel their career forward.

Powell met a woman at GHC who was developing a VR application to help women practice tough work conversations and saw the potential in following up with them to see if they’d be willing to test it out with UW Bothell students.

“It was wonderful how open everyone was to just starting up a conversation, about anything they are doing, and how everyone really listened and seemed invested in connecting,” said Powell.

Shree Parimi had the chance to connect with several employers, exploring potential career opportunities and learning about the exciting projects and initiatives they’re working on.

“It was an invaluable experience to engage with these organizations and gain insights into what they are looking for in candidates,” she Shree Parimi.

One of Powell’s networking conversations led to an interview with the Los Alamos National Laboratory the next day. She fondly remembers that it was the least scared and most relaxed she had ever felt going into an interview because of their conversation the previous day.

Sustainability-focused sessions

GHC had a lot of sessions, so many that attendees had to prioritize what they wanted to attend (which was no easy choice!). Powell is very interested in green tech, so she was thrilled to see that there were several sustainability-focused sessions.

“Farm-to-Plate AI” from MathWorks was her favorite. It gave her an opportunity to use MATLAB for the first time and brought her together with a new friend, a student at the University of Missouri – St. Louis who shares her same interests.

“We got to see how to simulate a drone’s flight through a field and how computer vision and AI can help with every step of a mango’s journey to the table,” said Powell. “The strides that are being made in agrotech are going to have a huge impact on climate change initiatives.”

Growth experience

Students that attend GHC end the conference with new skills, inspiration, confidence, connections, career strategies, and a reinforced belief in the importance of diversity and inclusion in the tech industry.

Looking down from the second story balcony to see hundreds of people filling the hall waiting for the expo hall to open.

When Powell thought about her experience, she realized it was not so scary to attend big conferences filled with software developers competing for jobs. Her experience got her thinking about how much of a difference it makes that these events exist.

“It made me even more excited to plan this year’s UW Bothell ACM student hackathon,” said Powell. The hackathon is a wonderful way for students to not only gain hands-on experience in programming and solving problems as a team, but it’s an opportunity to build their network and create something useful and fun.

Just like Powell, Sree Parimi would love to go back to GHC in the future.

“It’s an amazing event that fosters a sense of community and empowerment,” said Sree Parimi. “I believe it’s essential to continue attending such conferences to stay connected with the dynamic tech landscape and meet like-minded individuals.”

Students, faculty and staff at the University of Washington Bothell School of STEM Division of Computing & Software Systems booth representing STEM Graduate Programs in the GHC Expo Hall
Students, faculty and staff at the University of Washington Bothell School of STEM Division of Computing & Software Systems booth representing STEM Graduate Programs in the GHC Expo Hall.