Computer Science students and faculty attend Grace Hopper Celebration


by Laurel Seay (’24)


Eight Computer Science students from James Madison University participated in the Grace Hopper Celebration held in Orlando, Florida, from Sept. 25-29. Admiring the legacy of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, the celebration began in 1994 and highlights the significance of women’s work in computing.

“I’ve been in this field for a while, and I remember when it was just a small event,” said Sharon Simmons, head of CS, who accompanied the students at the GHC. “Over time, it has grown in strength.”

The celebration attracts global interest, with approximately 30,000 attendees this year, including women, men and nonbinary individuals.

“The heart of it (the celebration) is supporting females in computer science,” Simmons said. “It’s a place where women can share their stories and support one another.”

“It’s very motivating to go to a conference like that and see people like yourself trying to make it in STEM, when it’s always been so male-dominated,” said Emily Sutton, CS major. She enjoyed interacting with individuals from diverse backgrounds and fostering discussions related to technology and engineering.

This year’s celebration included informative sessions tailored to students’ differing interests, predominantly featuring female speakers. Some sessions were designed for first-year students navigating male-dominated majors, while other sessions targeted older students preparing to enter the computer science industry. Additionally, there were sessions introducing graduate programs focusing on technical materials within the field.

Simmons and CS major Anna-Maria Lleshi were moved by the keynote session, which centered on women’s journeys in computing. Female speakers reflected on their career paths, sharing the challenges of fitting into roles that didn’t feel natural. The session inspired Lleshi, reminding her that as a woman in computing, she has the right to occupy space and take risks without fear of judgment.

In addition to the thematic sessions, the celebration featured a career fair with companies worldwide who set up elaborate booths with interactive experiences, such as a flight simulator and a dance floor.

“For some students, this is their opportunity to find a job, and it is a great opportunity,” Simmons said.

During the career fair, Sutton and Lleshi spoke with a female member of the FBI who specializes in digital forensics. The conversation sparked their interest in the field, which involves examining digital devices for evidence in high-profile cases. Lleshi found the discussion inspiring as it aligned with her potential career path.

“I love being able to go to the sessions and staying current with what’s happening in the tech world because it’s always ever-changing,” stated Amber Oliver, CS major. She attended a session discussing machine learning and data pipelines, which aligns with her current research focus.

Lleshi also noted connections between the sessions and her coursework at JMU. A tech session about creating products for clients, making design choices, and testing methods resonated with her as it aligned with her software engineering class.

“The celebration fosters an open environment of discussion and learning for diverse female CS students and professionals,” Lleshi said. The conference allowed her to take a step back and realize that her work in the computing world matters and is enough — pushing her to take pride in what she has achieved. “I never thought I could attend a program as important as the Grace Hopper Celebration.” She encourages students to attend if they ever get the same opportunity.

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Published: Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Last Updated: Thursday, November 30, 2023

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