One of the unexpected negative effects of not belonging to a computer science department is not being aware of the timing of major community events. I was late in planning an Hour of Code for Computer Science Education Week last year, and only in the last couple weeks did I realize had completely failed to plan for Grace Hopper (aka. the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing).
Not having been a computer science undergrad at a liberal arts institution – and I’ll admit, being much less concerned with the homogeneity of computer scientists – I wasn’t aware of the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) until the middle of my graduate career. I knew friends who have gone multiple times and they always reported a positive experience. A student of mine went to GHC last year and said it was amazing; in fact, it was due to their prompting that I started planning for Hour of Code. Still, it never crossed my mind that I should attend, never mind organizing students to attend as a group.
It is to my shame that I only realized my mistake when a student took the initiative to organize a trip (there’s a pattern here…), and it is to the students’ credit how quickly they suggested avenues of funding. The student first emailed me on June 28; by the next day, the group had identified several funds at Oxy that might support student travel, and also located outside sources such as a scholarship from Google. One student even contacted one of Oxy’s associate deans, who then brought it up with the dean. If computer science had been more established at Oxy, there might already have been a fund set aside for GHC, but trying to create one now is better than nothing.
Of course, if computer science had been more established, I might have had colleagues who knew that the GHC has a special group registration process for universities that opened in April. Instead, I saw that the general registration opens on July 13, and I figured we had time to find funding… until GHC announced that they had sold out of general registrations by 9:20am the day the registration opened. This is jaw dropping to me. I don’t know the exact time registration started, but even if half of the anticipated 15,000 attendees went through general registration, it’s likely that close to a thousand peopled registered every hour until registration closed. (I later learned that it is not uncommon for colleges to send large groups of students – I heard that Mount Holyoke sends 40 students a year, causing other faculty untold annoyance.)
I was lucky that when I became aware of the situation, registration reserved for faculty was still open, so I will be visiting Houston in October. I’m not sure what I hope to learn. Although I’m sure there will be events aimed at computer science faculty and mentors, I suspect the main appeal of the celebration is for women to experience the rare luxury of being the majority, and to share stories and learn from each other. I have no issue with that, but since students are the main beneficiaries, it is a shame that the rising seniors will not be able to attend while they are still students.
Now that I am familiar with the GHC schedule, I have put the academic registration on my calendar for next year. I can’t think of any other event that I could drop the ball in the same manner, if there are opportunities for undergraduates that I should plan for, please do let me know.