Computer science is a field largely made up of men, but a group of UMD students is trying to change this by gearing outreach efforts towards women.
"We would love to see more women in computing fields. In an attempt to achieve this goal, we are using research as a means to build a sense of belonging, a community and the confidence among students. Exposure to research is a constructive approach to encourage women in computing,” said Arshia Khan, an associate professor in the Computer Science Department.
Arshia is also a main organizer of the MinneWIC Conference held at UMD in February. MinneWIC was the ACM-W Celebration of Women in Computing for the Upper MidWest.
Before the conference, a day-long research workshop was held in November. Faculty shared their research and the students had an opportunity to have lunch with them to learn more about it. This helped students choose a topic for their research and allowed them to choose a faculty mentor.
The faculty and students worked on their projects until the conference, where the students presented their research. Student research projects were presented at the conference after students at UMD worked with professors related to their field.
The conference brought together students, faculty, and professionals to focus on encouraging women to pursue computer science careers.
Held on Saturday, February 16, 2019, the conference included discussion groups with graduate and undergraduate students. It continued with research projects and working with mentors.
A poster session included fifteen posters from all students and the judges gave out awards for first and second place, both for undergraduate and graduate posters.
The Universities that participated were UMD, U of M Twin Cities, St. Olaf, U of M Morris, Augsburg, Dakota State University, Northern Michigan University, and University of Wisconsin Superior.
Women in the industry came from Target, MN Power, Thompson Reuters, and Securian Financial.
There were about ninety people total in attendance and the keynote speaker was from the University of Michigan. Dr. Alexis Elder in the Philosophy department also was a speaker and talked about robotics and ethics.
Student Responses to MinneWIC
"I think the research workshop and the MinneWIC conference helped me learn more about research in general and about how undergraduate research projects run. At the conference, I thought it was interesting to learn about what other student researchers were working on and that inspired me to learn more about fields of computer science that are still being explored. While I currently don’t have plans for grad school, I am still glad that I participated and got exposed to the research aspect of computer science," said Emily Hansson. Emily is a UMD Computer Science undergraduate student and participated in the poster session.
"I have learned a lot from the conference by hearing different people speak about their background and how it's prepared them for their role in the industry and academia. I have been encouraged and inspired to strive harder. The panel talks especially, inspired me to connect with other people who share the same ideas and interests, even if they're in a different field," said Christianah Adigun. Christianah is a UMD Computer Science graduate student and participated on the career panel.