GHC 2015 with Teresa Krause

I had the opportunity to attend several talks at the Grace Hopper Conference, some good some bad. One of my favorites (or rather, the one I took the most away from) was the Women in Computing Societies at Universities talk. Women from many universities globally spoke about their experiences starting and running groups just like nuWiT. I was both reminded of how luck we are at Northeastern that we are so supported by our administration, and also that there are lots more things we can do to encourage women in pursue computer science and stay in the field.

The successes and struggles of other clubs made me evaluate the success of nuWiT and see where we can improve further. In particular, the panelists and audience mentioned initial recruiting efforts, member retention, balancing being inclusive of male students with remaining a safe space for women, and setting up successful mentorship programs.

We have been fortunate for recruitment that Northeastern and CCIS have established channels for letting students know about all the student groups that are available for them to join. I spoke at the Dean’s Welcome at the beginning of the year to the incoming freshman class, and the college has helped us spread information about our events every week. Something we’ve discussed and are starting to do is reaching outside of CCIS. This is something we’ve talked a lot about: how to include women in technology who aren’t CS majors, and something that I care a lot about. Something that was suggested at the conference that we have done some but could do more is encouraging our friends and members to bring their friends regardless of major. Another tip that was shared is to make sure there is free pizza at meetings; I think we’ve got that one covered.

Retention is a problem for both clubs and women in CS. It’s unrealistic, I think, to hope for 100% retention in a student group but we can still make sure that people are engaged with our community and events throughout the whole semester. We put a lot of thought into our event calendar for this semester (balancing social, technical, and academic events) and the panelists confirmed they also do what we had set up: social events first to build community, then more technical events.

I don’t want to discuss allies and male presence in the club to deeply, other than to say that it was good to hear input from others about how best to handle male students interested in being members. Most of the men who attend nuWiT events have been truly interested in our events, and are very welcome. However, we have had issues with men attending some of our events and not being respectful of our resources or mission. I think it will be important to our outreach as we grow to think carefully about how we approach gender issues in our space.

Finally, mentorship. This is an area where I feel we are really lacking. Mentorship is something that I’ve wanted us to have in our community as well as something that panelists at the conference spoke about being really important to their clubs. I have talked to everyone that will listen about how we can improve female mentorship at CCIS, and have lots of ideas to try out. I hope to make this a priority for next semester and develop a real program for women to network and get support in CCIS.