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Nov. 28, 2015
A conference founded for the purpose of enabling women to discuss their roles in computing and technology fields and share experiences and strategies for success is benefitting students at Northwest Missouri State University and beyond.
More than 240 students, educators and professionals from throughout the region who share a passion for computer science and technology gathered last month for the third Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas Women in Computing (MINK WIC) conference at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center in Kansas City, Mo.
Dr. Carol Spradling, associate professor of computer science and information systems at Northwest co-founded the biennial conference in 2011, as an effort to combat the declining numbers of female students in computer science and technology related fields.
This year’s attendees included more than 160 undergraduate and graduate students, and they represented 28 colleges and universities from the four states. Thirty-five students and eight faculty members representing Northwest attended the conference.
“We want to show female students that computing is an exciting profession that allows them to solve interesting problems, be creative in their solutions and work collaboratively to make a difference in the world,” Spradling said. “The MINK WIC conference is designed to open the eyes of young women by exposing them to female computing role models and new possibilities in computing.”
In 2013, only 18 percent of computer and information sciences bachelor degree recipients were women. In 2014, women held only 26 percent of the professional computing occupations in the United States workforce, despite holding 57 percent of professional occupations in the workforce overall, according to research conducted by the National Center for Women and Information Technology.
Crystal Ward, manager of web services at Northwest, is part of its six-person planning committee. She has attended the conference since its inception and helps maintain the conference’s website.
Ward has watched students create important friendships and support networks by attending the conference. One faculty advisor who brought several students to this fall’s conference was a student at the inaugural MINK WIC in 2011.
“While Northwest has a large and diverse enrollment in our computing department, that is not always the case at other institutions,” Ward said. “I meet several young women at the conference who feel isolated because they are the only or one of just a handful of female students in a computing-related major at their school. Many female computing students feel uncomfortable speaking up in class. They lack self-confidence or fear answering incorrectly and being judged by fellow classmates. Our mission is to bring young women together in an open and supportive environment where they can explore opportunities in computing, network with successful women from academia and industry who can serve as mentors and role models and to create friendships with those that share the same interests.”
Saimadhavi Murari, a Northwest student from Andhra Pradesh, India, who is working on her master’s degree in applied computer science, attended the conference and says she drew inspiration and courage from listening to the speakers share their experiences, including keynote speaker Duy-Loan Le.
“When young women and students attend this conference, they get chance to meet many great people and be influenced,” Murari said. “Additionally, the fire in them will come out to show their talent. I felt: When they are able to achieve many things and handle many tasks, then why can’t I, too.”
Hannah May, a senior interactive digital media major from Metamora, Ill., made her second trip to the conference this year and participated as moderator of a panel discussing jobs and internships. She said she enjoys the opportunities to network with the variety of professionals who attend the conference as well as learning from the experiences shared by the keynote speaker and in workshops.
May also has secured internships and job interviews through contacts she made at the conference. She worked as system application developer intern with Gallup and scored interviews with Technology Services Group, Target and Commerce Bank after the career fair at this fall’s conference.
“Young women greatly benefit from this conference due to the friendly, open environment that promotes questions, advice and networking,” May said. “This event has allowed me to meet many powerful women and has helped me realize how I would like to help young women get into the field of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) like they have helped me.”
This fall’s MINK WIC conference, a project of the Association for Computing Machinery Council on Women in Computing, offered talks about software and programming languages. The program also included a variety of tech talks and panel discussions about entrepreneurship, internships and launching a career. The conference concluded with a career fair to help match young women with local, regional and national companies looking for interns and full-time employees.
Keynote speaker Duy‐Loan Le presented “Unleashing your Potential: Innovation & Life.” Le is a highly accomplished Semiconductor Industry Expert and Technology Consultant who was the first and only woman at Texas Instruments to be elected Senior Fellow, the highest rank for technology employees.
Alicia M. Dwyer Cianciolo, an aerospace engineer for NASA who has participated in nearly every mission to Mars in the past decade, presented the conference’s other keynote address, “From the Sandhills of Nebraska to the Sand Dunes of Mars, Anything Can Happen If You Let It.”
Northwest students Narayani Mahathi Chaturvedula, Vasudha Jagarlamudy, Saimadhavi Murari, Sumnima Rana, Ramya Sankara and Ramya Krishna Velivala presented at the conference.
Other panelists and presenters representing Northwest were computer science and information systems assistant professors Dr. Denise Case and Dr. Michael Rogers, and Northwest alumnae Amber Beerends, a lead architect at Cerner, and Yuvonise Thurmond, an IT Supervisor for the Outage Management System Team at KCP&L.
Diana Linville, a Northwest instructor of computer science and information systems, assisted Spradling and Ward with conference planning.
Northwest co-sponsored the conference with additional support from the College of Arts and Sciences dean’s office and the Department of Mathematics, Computer Science and Information Systems.
For more information on the MINK WIC conference, visit www.minkwic.org.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
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