The social component of increasing and retaining students in STEM fields is important, especially for women in STEM. Graduate student Jue Wu attended the Grace Hopper Celebration in Orlando, the largest gathering of women in tech, with a delegation of Northwestern students from the Women in Computing (WIC) group.
The Celebration was a four day conference and included research talks and career development opportunities. Wu’s dissertation “explores ways to diversify STEM by encouraging more women to study Computer Science (CS) and supporting them as they progress in their degree program and career path.” She has successfully defended her proposal for her dissertation and attended the Celebration to inform her research. Wu’s work builds on past literature about affinity groups and links the need for a sense of belonging with STEM retention for non-majority students and women. Wu states “CS is a field where women’s representation has been going down in the past decade but other engineering fields are going up” and argues the necessity of support systems for women in technology.
As an attendee of the Celebration, Wu positioned herself as a participant observer of the conference. Wu sought out opportunities to interact with both the professional and student attendees. She was able to anecdotally observe an increased sense of belonging in the WIC delegation from Northwestern as a result of the informal mentoring experiences from their peers and conversations from senior level attendees. Wu reflects, “You get to see so many wonderful women in tech. To see what they’re doing is really empowering for the girls. They’re not here to intimidate you, they’re here to empower you.” The career fair at the conference actively recruited the attendees. There was a common understanding that the attendees were members of the STEM community and the prospective employees recognized themselves as such.
Wu pointed out the number of companies within the technology industry that require individuals with strong computer science and spatial skills, “Companies that make graphing tools like MATLAB, or game design companies like Nintendo and Sony, that create 3D spaces require spatial skills. All app coding requires spatial ability to help create their products and websites.” Wu’s dissertation project sets out to understand the impact of women-in-technology or women-in-computing groups and to explore sense of belonging and confidence in computer science fields.
Alongside her research, Wu works with Northwestern’s Searle Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning, on a NSF AGEP project, the Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, which seeks to advance knowledge about models to improve pathways to the professoriate and success for historically underrepresented minority doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty, in STEM disciplines.