The Drexel Women in Computing Society’s Renewed Mission to Close the Tech Gender Gap
By Bhavya Sharma, BA ‘18
College of Computing & Informatics
Sophomore computer science student Amy Gottsegen wants to build a community committed to ending the tech gender divide right here at Drexel University.
Since being elected president of the College of Computing & Informatics (CCI) student-led Women in Computing Society (WiCS) in summer 2015, Gottsegen and her fellow officers — Heidi Muth (vice president and public relations), Aldercy Wang (treasurer), Tamine Mokdissi (secretary), Joanne Wong (event coordinator), and Houda El minmouni (graduate liaison) — are ramping up opportunities across campus to encourage more students to get involved in computing.
Founded in 2004, WiCS’ is a student organization with a mission to support, recruit and retain women pursuing a degree in the broad field of computing. The group hosts a variety of events, such as informal dinners and gatherings, speaking engagements, and field trips, with the goal of empowering women in computing fields so that they can succeed and thrive in the Drexel community — and beyond.
In 2015, CCI sent 12 of the organization’s members to Houston, Texas to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference, the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. The group will attend once again this year with the support of the College.
Gottsegen is also an undergraduate researcher with interests in data science in public policy formation, and is an alumna of Drexel's STAR (Students Tackling Advanced Research) Scholars Program. She is currently on co-op as a junior software developer at Analytical Graphics, Inc. in Exton, Pa.
Gottsegen credits Gabriela Marcu, PhD, assistant professor at the College of Computing & Informatics, for her guidance on how to expand WiCS’ outreach even more. Marcu’s experience as a doctoral candidate in human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University exposed her to one of the most vibrant computing societies for women in the country: Women@SCS. Inspired by Marcu’s experience, Gottsegen decided to push towards a more active presence of WiCS on Drexel’s campus this year.
She also conceptualized the group’s mentoring program, in which freshmen and sophomore students in computing programs are paired with junior and senior CCI students to foster integration and inclusion. The mentoring program, which is exclusively for female-identifying students, aims to address challenges that women in computing might face, such as social isolation due to being a minority in a predominantly male field (in 2016, women made up only 26% of the computing workforce).
As it grows, the organization has remained in close contact with its founding members. This past February, Drexel alumna and WiCS founding board member Christina Kirby (BS computer science, ’05) visited CCI to talk about her work as a senior developer at Comcast and her experience earning her master of business administration from Southern New Hampshire University.
As a Drexel student, Kirby was inspired to start a student organization for women in computing after returning from a trip to the Grace Hopper Conference in Chicago. Kirby shared that Amie Souter Greenwald, PhD (who served as an assistant professor of computer science at Drexel until 2005) coordinated the first trip to the conference. The conference experience transformed Kirby “from feeling like the only woman in the room, to sharing a room full of brilliant women technologists.”
Kirby founded WiCS in October 2004 with the goal of creating a supportive environment at Drexel where both women and men in STEM majors could seek mentorship, ask questions and share experiences. “Armed with the experience of serving as director of Campus Activities Board and treasurer of the MCS Society, I was well versed in student organizations on campus. [I] wanted to take the energy from Grace Hopper and develop a culture where women could thrive,” Kirby said.
She believes that organizations like WiCS enable both men and women to succeed beyond college. “No one succeeds by his or herself. [Success] starts through developing relationships while you are in college, both in the classroom and on co-op. The network formed through these connections will become the mentors, sponsors, and advocates that provide support throughout your career,” she said. Kirby wants more women to seek out and engage in emerging technologies and use them to shape the future, a vision that still thrives among current members of WiCS.
On April 3, WiCS’ held a networking event with the Network of Women with Careers in Technology (NCWT), offering Drexel women students a chance to network with women professionals in the technology industry. For more information about upcoming events or to learn more, follow WiCS on Twitter (https://twitter.com/drexelwics), or visit their website at drexelwics.tumblr.com.