CIS students attend, present work at women in tech conference

Created: December 4, 2017
Last Updated: January 14, 2020

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WASHINGTON, PA (Dec. 4, 2017)—Two Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) women are pioneering in a male-dominated field.

Laura O’Malley ’19 and Sarah Majercak ’19, both computing information studies (CIS) majors, recently attended the OurCS Workshop for Undergraduate Women in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. Both women worked with research teams during the conference on short-term research projects.

“I really enjoyed my experience. It was exciting to learn from and talk to successful women in the industry,” Sarah said. “It was interesting to work more in depth on a smaller project, although short-term it was a great way to get to work with students from different programs and backgrounds.”

Laura was one of several student researchers to present her work during the conference. She shared her findings from a summer National Science Foundation (NSF) research experience for undergrads that worked to create a diagnostic program for dermatological disease based on a physical description of the affliction by a lay person.

“It was a really supportive atmosphere,” Laura said. “All of the girls were very nice and were genuinely interested in what I was presenting.”

In addition to hearing from fellow students of technology, the conference featured speakers from the industry, including Nancy Amato, a professor at Texas U&M whose presentation resonated with O’Malley.

“She was just really engaging,” Laura said of the presentation. “It was great to hear in these talks not only about the need to change society’s views on women, but also the way in which women view themselves. We are just as deserving to be in this space as men are, and going to events like this makes the environment of the field a lot less intimidating.”

W&J Professor of Computing and Information Studies Amanda Holland-Minkley, Ph.D., said that W&J strives to provide an environment where students feel empowered.

“With computing still being a male-dominated field, we’ve worked hard here in CIS to design a curriculum and include pedagogies that are known to encourage and support a diverse student body,” Dr. Holland-Minkley said. “For many students, W&J is the first place they get to try out a computing course and they may not even consider it a viable career path until they are successful in that first course. We try to foster a positive community around computing here, but it’s great when we can also help our students take part in opportunities like OurCS that broaden that experience.”

And for women interested in the field or in exploring their learning options in the CIS program at W&J, Laura has some advice.

“Our numbers are growing and the field is constantly changing,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to push outside of your comfort zone. If you’re interested in learning more, ask questions or take a class. Getting uncomfortable initially can open new doors for you in ways you may not have expected.”

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.

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