By Louis DiPietro
Of all the impactful moments she experienced while attending last month’s Grace Hopper Conference – an annual celebration of women in computing – Catherine Tom ’24 notes a serendipitous run-in on her first day.
“There were these three women from Amazon – one data scientist and two software engineers – and we just happened to strike up a conversation by the coffee table. What caught my attention was their backgrounds. They came from all corners of the world, and they were all in different stages of life, too,” said Tom, who majors in information science. “I could picture myself in their shoes, working on equally impactful technologies. And I was thinking that all of us here from Cornell, we all have that same chance.”
Tom was one of 60 students, faculty, and staff from the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science who made the trek to Orlando, Fla., for the Grace Hopper Conference, held Sept. 20 through 23 and named in honor of the pioneering mathematician and computer scientist.
The trip was all-expenses paid for Cornell Bowers CIS students, thanks to the college’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and the Hopper-Dean Foundation, with additional student sponsorships from Cornell Tech, the departments of computer science and information science, and the Women in Computing at Cornell (WICC) student group.
“The Grace Hopper Conference is an unmatched showcase where women leaders in computing are elevated, celebrated, and motivated to continue transforming the field,” said LeeAnn Roberts, director of Cornell Bowers CIS’ Office of DEI. “At this year’s conference, our students experienced firsthand the collective force of women innovators across the tech industry and shared in honoring the pioneers who paved the way for them.”
That collective force could prove critical in infusing diverse talent into tech fields that still lag in women representation: women constitute 34% of the national STEM workforce – a bump of 2% since 2010 – and 52% of the non-STEM workforce, according to National Science Foundation statistics. Within Cornell Bowers CIS, 43% percent of all computing and information science undergraduate majors are women.
Over four days, thousands of students attended more than 200 conference sessions and workshops from influential women leaders across sectors, from technology, business, and government to entertainment and sports. Roberts participated in a conference panel that addressed the importance of systemic change, intercultural learning, and cross-cultural competence in creating equitable, inclusive, and a sense of belonging at higher-ed institutions. Cornell Bowers CIS’ Office of DEI and Cornell Tech also sponsored a Cornell alumni reception.
For Tom, she felt encouraged when swapping stories with fellow students, attendees, and corporate representatives about their experiences and challenges in working in technology fields.
“My path to technology wasn’t conventional,” Tom said. “A lot of my peers started out with an interest in technology. They came in as computer science or information science majors, ready to code. I didn’t have that background.”
She entered Cornell to study environment and sustainability but was drawn to the breadth and interdisciplinary nature of information science and its home college, Cornell Bowers CIS. Currently serving in a leadership role with the Information Science Student Association and an active member of WICC, Tom hopes to work in industry upon graduation, possibly in product management.
“Listening to promising and established women technologists describe their experiences within their fields, how they found their place, and how they've grown since – it’s nice to have a model of what I aspire to be,” she said. “I really hope to one day inspire the younger generations of women technologists the same way I was inspired at this conference.”
Louis DiPietro is a writer for the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science.