MU Engineering students inspired at Grace Hopper Celebration

Two women stand in front of a mural of faces.

Melissa Hollingshead and Qiwen Guo were two of the five students MU Engineering took to the Grace Hopper Celebration earlier this fall.

Several students, alongside faculty, alumni and staff, from Mizzou Engineering attended the recent 2018 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Houston and presented their key takeaways at a panel discussion during MU Engineering’s Women in Engineering Week in October.

The Grace Hopper Celebration bills itself as “the world’s largest gathering of women technologists,” and consists of keynote speakers, a multitude of career development workshops, a career fair and more. All of the keynote addresses were given by women holding leadership and/or faculty positions in a wide variety of companies and universities.

Seeing that many women in an industry where they’re generally underrepresented was inspiring and a drastic change from the current norm.

“After the first keynote, not a single man walked across the stage for three hours,” electrical engineering major Leigh Rocca said. “It’s something that I never really noticed, but it’s noticeable when it’s all women talking about what they have done. That was really cool.”

MU took five students to the event, which typically fills up its registration in a matter of hours, if not minutes, alongside Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Professor Kannappan Palaniappan and Assistant Dean of Inclusive Excellence and Strategic Initiatives Tojan Rahhal. The energy at the Grace Hopper Celebration was palpable, the student panelists said.

“The moment I went to the keynotes, I felt really energetic,” senior computer science major Qiwen Guo said. “We met a lot of people from different backgrounds, different ages.”

Representation was a critical takeaway from the event, seeing so many successful women reshaping the tech field. Also important was the career fair and the opportunity to make connections and work to find internships and future careers. MU Engineering student Melissa Hollingshead said it was important to her during that process to ask the recruiters how life is for women in their organization.

“Every single company had their top women engineers there, and when you actually get to that company those numbers may not match up. One of things I was asking people was … is that real? Do you feel as a woman you’re getting the value out of your company?”

Knowing the companies and their story and being specific about what you’re looking for out of your career is key, senior electrical engineering major Sammy Warren said. Warren’s focus is on hardware rather than software, and knowing what companies to talk to and who has a hardware focus was important in her case.

“You have to know what companies are going to be looking for you,” she explained. “Microsoft, Google, Amazon — they all have these hardware positions available. Companies that are strictly software like Twitter — know your audience.”

The success of this fall’s trip to the Grace Hopper Celebration has driven interest in growing the opportunity to attend for future Mizzou Engineering students.

“The goal is to send as many women from Mizzou as possible. We want to have a presence there,” Warren said. “I talked to the girls at Duke, and they said they sent 100, so in the next three years, let’s get 100 people to go. That’s going to happen with more and more of us getting scholarships to go. We’re all really, really smart, so we should be able to get the scholarships to go.”

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