WiCS’ Plans For The Year

Womxn in Computer Science (WiCS) President Rediet Bekele (CC ’21) talks about the organization’s plans to help members and its new initiatives for the year. She takes a positive look at the move to virtual classes and online events and sees it as an opportunity to reach even more people and help members navigate this school year. 

Rediet Bekele

Below, Bekele reflects on the changes this year and how WiCS will help build a sense of community for its members. 

How do you see the year unfolding for WiCS?
We are already in the works for Fall events that will allow our members to participate virtually. We started holding General Body meetings over the summer and it will continue virtually into the academic year. We are hoping that through these meetings we can instill the feeling of community that is currently much needed.

We plan to grow the number of members that join our club by onboarding early. WiCS’ community chairs are going to be working closely with incoming first-year students to create a channel with WiCS. They want students to use this channel to help navigate on-campus and virtual resources. Workshops on how to communicate with TAs and professors and lightning talks about research projects on campus are just some of the events we are organizing to help students understand course-related and research opportunities that are made available to them.  

What do you hope to achieve this year as president?
As an international student myself, I want to work on more initiatives that will help international students navigate the CS community at Columbia and use the resources available to them to succeed in the field. This will include organizing professional development opportunities, workshops on understanding work authorization, and making the most out of health and course-related resources on campus. 

Within the club, I hope to make the transition to the coming academic year as smooth as possible on everyone on the board. We are anticipating the majority of our correspondence to be remote this coming year so I want to make sure that effective virtual communications still occur and that we are able to continue working with all of our members. It will definitely be a learning curve for all of us as the virtual format is truly a unique situation, but WICS’ amazing board members and general body are sure to make it an effortless transition. 

How about the yearly events and activities that WiCs hosts, will any of those push through?
Definitely! Just as we have done in previous years, we are sponsoring students attending the Grace Hopper Conference. This year, WiCS is a bronze level academic sponsor for the conference and we are incredibly excited to be sponsoring 30 women to attend the virtual conference in October!

DivHacks is also virtually taking place this fall from October 23 -25. Our diversity chairs have been working hard to make the fifth annual DivHacks hackathon the best one to date. The theme for this year’s hackathon is Encoding Justice. We encourage everyone to check out the DivHacks website and register for the event. 

We also have numerous events coming up with our general body members such as virtual professor lunches, mock interview sessions to help our students during the recruitment season, and 1:1 coffee chats with engineers from our sponsor companies. 

We can’t wait for students to take part in all of our events! 

How can students reach out to WiCS and find out more about your programs?
A great way to keep up with our events is to subscribe to our weekly newsletter. Students can subscribe through the link on our website. They can also reach out to us on our Facebook page and Instagram channel

Is there anything else you think people should know?
In light of current issues, from a pandemic that has closed the doors of our campus to heightened tension and protests against racial inequality, it is easy to feel overwhelmed, stressed, furious, and confused. We want to let everyone know that WiCS is here to serve not only the CS community but the entire Columbia and Barnard student community. We want to keep open lines of communications so that anyone can reach out to us and we would be happy to listen, provide resources, or support.

WiCS Goes to Grace Hopper 2019

Columbia’s Womxn in Computer Science (WiCS) share their experiences from the 2019 Grace Hopper Convention in Orlando, Florida. The annual conference is the world’s largest gathering of women in computing.

Hadley Callaway
Grace Hopper was a fantastic experience. I completed three interviews with companies while there, and I was able to leave the conference with an offer for a software engineering internship.

I spoke to recruiters and engineers from all sorts of different companies (big and small, offering a variety of products), and attended fun corporate events in the evening, including one at SeaWorld.

It was also very empowering to hear from womxn at the cutting edge of their field speak about their experiences and what they have learned. Attending the conference was a great opportunity for me to continue to develop professional skills such as pitching, networking, following up on connections, etc.

I am so thankful to WiCS and the Columbia CS department for making such an invaluable opportunity possible!

Michelle Mao
Thanks to WiCS, I was able to go to Grace Hopper ‘19, and any womxn in STEM would be lucky to do the same. The Grace Hopper Celebration is a lot of things but the most impactful thing about the celebration, for me, was how inspiring those short few days were. 

I had heard a lot about the conference from friends who have gone in the past, so I knew to expect a hectic schedule when I arrived in Orlando. In the three and a half days at Grace Hopper, I went to the career fair, got a free ticket to Harry Potter World, interviewed at a few companies, and acquired a lot of swag.

What I did not expect was spontaneously meeting other womxn while waiting in lines, running into friends I had not seen in years, or how truly friendly, open, and uplifting the atmosphere would be. I attended a researcher’s luncheon with my friend, but I was a little nervous about going because the research I was doing was not exactly related to computing. But everyone at the table was so kind and welcoming — as we ate, the conversation shifted to topics other than research, until the luncheon just felt like a chat among a group of friends.

After the first couple of days, I also noticed that in my interviews, most of my interviewers were womxn. I had not realized until then that I have grown accustomed to being interviewed by men. It was wonderful to have this representation feel so normal, and meeting and talking with these incredible womxn was just the cherry on top. 

It’s difficult to put into words, but Grace Hopper really does feel like a celebration: the energy is palpable and electrifying, the conversations are genuine, and womxn in STEM are there to support each other in every way possible. Being in this space was a privilege and I felt like I belonged, in every sense of the word, and it is one hundred percent an event any womxn interested in computing should experience.

Haley So
In a single word, the Grace Hopper Celebration was empowering. It was inspiring to see so many womxn pursuing and pushing the boundaries of computer science.

There were talks on everything from emerging technologies to how to promote yourself as a womxn in tech. I was also able to explore different paths and find out a little more about what direction I want to go in. I met so many lovely womxn, and I got closer to some WiCS members as we wandered around the enormous career fair and listened to talks from leaders in the field.

Going to the conference opened my eyes to the endless possibilities, introduced me to new role models, and made me excited about the future. I cannot wait for all those womxn to build the future world of tech!

WiCS at the 2018 Grace Hopper Celebration

Women technologists from around the world gathered in Houston, Texas to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration. Columbia’s Womxn in Computer Science (WiCS) share how it was to be part of the event that celebrates and promotes women in technology.

Xiao Lim

My favorite part about Grace Hopper was the raw experience of walking into the opening keynote and seeing over 20,000 women in tech. I think it’s easy to get bogged down by what we perceive as the status quo, but going to Grace Hopper reminded me that what is “normal” can and will always change. I can’t wait to see the future built by these women, and am proud to know that I am part of the change I want to see.

Lucille Sui

My favorite part about attending Grace Hopper was meeting so many amazing and inspirational women and also getting closer with the women I came with from Columbia! I learned a lot about the different paths in life that you can pursue with a computer science degree, from working on the Sims game to working on the tech enabled side of Home Depot. I would encourage everyone to attend this event because it’s an amazing way to meet other women in the field and understand the horizon of limitless potential you have as a woman in tech.

Kara Schechtman

Attending Grace Hopper is always such a meaningful experience as a woman in technology. It was my second time attending the conference, and both years I’ve been heartened to see the big crowds of women (and allies!) at the conference.

In addition to being in a woman-dominated space, it is really exciting to see that women are passionate about fixing many of tech’s problems; there were long lines for speakers like Joy Boulamwini who tackles bias in algorithms. For me, the most memorable experience was attending a talk given by Anita Hill the day after Christine Blasey-Ford’s hearing. Her words of advice to not give up on creating positive change were ones I really needed to hear that day. I hope I’ll be able to attend the conference for many years to come!

Madeline Wu

I had no idea what to expect from my first Grace Hopper experience, but was so glad I got to do it with fellow Barnard/Columbia seniors who also attended GHC through the WiCS sponsorship. Being at a conference with 25,000+ women in computer science is simultaneously inspiring and overwhelming, so I appreciated having other WiCS students to exchange tips with on the best giveaways, share what workshops we were attending, and to wish each other luck on interviews.

Some of my closest friends in college are fellow Barnard CS seniors who attended GHC with me, and throughout our three days in Houston we connected with women in tech from all backgrounds and interests, learned how to play poker with Palantir, enjoyed a mac and cheese themed Snapchat party, and tried all the Tex-Mex we could find. I went into this semester feeling a little burnt out, but seeing so many women in CS in one place and seeing how much companies are investing in women in tech re-motivated and inspired me to give everything my best effort senior year. Despite the giveaways and opportunities that GHC is most known for, I am most grateful that I got to experience GHC’s unparalleled sense of community with women who have been integral to my college journey!

Vivian Shen

I loved going to Grace Hopper because for once in my life, I was in an environment where womxn greatly outnumbered men at a giant, respected tech conference. As students, we try to carve out spaces for womxn in tech with our incredible clubs (Girls Who Code, Womxn in Computer Science, etc.), who hold various talks and gatherings and workshops. However, the experience is completely different when you are surrounded by thousands and thousands of womxn rather than just a handful, and these womxn come from all the corners of the globe to support each other in their technical pursuits. Not once during the week did I feel like I was talked down upon or “mansplained,” and it truly felt like every person I talked to, be it employer or peer, wanted me to succeed (and I wanted them to as well!). Sure, one of the biggest benefits of the Grace Hopper Conference is its giant career fair, where many students are able to find job offer(s).

However, I felt like the companies weren’t just there to find talented womxn engineers – they were also trying to prove that their company is inclusive and welcoming of diversity. It may seem strange to put it that way, but I believe that as these companies work to outdo each other in terms of inclusivity, they really do create better atmospheres for their workers. I’m more than happy to let companies show off all of their equity initiatives, especially when they are then receptive to feedback when we sometimes say that these initiatives aren’t doing enough.

At the conference, there were 50+ students from Columbia/Barnard, who all got sponsored in separate ways. I was lucky enough to receive a Microsoft scholarship out of the blue (I have had no prior connection with that company), so my main piece of advice to students who would like to attend GHC in the future is just to apply, apply, apply! Because it is such a renown conference, there are tons and tons of companies who offer sponsorship to those with a good enough reason to want to go, and filling out many applications increases your chances of getting funded by one of these. When it hits June, start looking for GHC scholarships on Google (I know it’s early, but trust me, you want to keep an eye on those things). Then, when you get in, I’m sure you’ll have a whole crowd of Barnumbia womxn (and peers from all over) who will be excited to attend and support you at the conference.