Furman Computer Science Department Chair Kevin Treu doesn’t need to pore over three years’ worth of information to know whether or not the The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) is worth his students’ time. The bright futures of Haley Cottingham ’17 and Andreea Cirstea ’17 provide enough data.
“We just had the idea that GHC would be beneficial to students who went. Now we have hard facts,” Treu said. “Haley and Andreea gained countless contacts, secured internships and even landed jobs through this experience.”
At Treu’s urging, Cottingham and Cirstea took the bold step as sophomores to fly to Phoenix for the October 2014 GHC, joining around 8,000 other attendees at what hails itself as “the world’s largest gathering of women technologists.” They were the first Furman students to attend, and the experience was so positive that they returned in 2015 and 2016.
“Before I went to GHC, I didn’t even know what you could do with a computer science degree, but I got a better handle on how many careers are out there and how many areas computer science touches,” Cottingham said. “Through internships I got to experience that first hand, and that’s probably the biggest benefit of getting to go three years in a row.”
Through GHC, Cottingham scored an internship with The Walt Disney Company and another with GE which led to a job opportunity after graduation. Cirstea, meanwhile, used Grace Hopper as a springboard to internships with JPMorgan in Dallas, Lumen Research in London and Salesforce in San Francisco.
One of the most significant figures in computer science, Grace Hopper was a co-inventor of the Harvard Mark I computer before leading a team that invented COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language), the first user-friendly software program that is now the backbone of world business-computer programming.
Despite Hopper’s ground-breaking contributions, however, women are still woefully underrepresented in the field.
“We’re at 38 percent (women) right now. That’s a historical high for our department,” Treu said. “Haley and Andreea have been tireless about promoting the benefits of computer science to other women at Furman . . . Consequently, our number of female students has been improving dramatically every year.”
Helping women navigate in a male-dominated field is one of the Grace Hopper Conference’s priorities, which paid off when Cirstea was in London doing an internship with Lumen Research. “I was the only female in this entire company (of 10), so it was strange,” she said. “It was a great experience, but it definitely had some awkward moments . . . Not everybody’s there yet. Not everybody has an open mind.”
Neither Cirstea nor Cottingham planned to be computer science majors before they arrived at Furman. Misconceptions about the professional opportunities and the work itself were a big reason for that.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I got interested in computer science because of an intro class at Furman. You can be a researcher. You can be an analyst. Computer science teaches you critical thinking and how to build something from the ground up.”
Cottingham, for example, is headed to Waukesha, Wisconsin, to join General Electric’s Digital Technology Leadership Program that will allow her to try four different areas of computer science over two years with an eye on a future in project management.
Cirstea will also have the opportunity to explore her options when she begins work in August as a tech consultant with Accenture in New York City.
“I could do programming. I could oversee the project management. That’s what I wanted—the best of both worlds. Having the technical expertise is important, but you also need great communication.”
The university’s involvement in the GHC mentoring program is an example of The Furman Advantage, an over-arching approach to education that promises every incoming student the opportunity for an engaged learning experience that is tracked and integrated with their academic and professional goals.
Cover photo courtesy of the Anita Borg Institute.
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