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Women in Computer Science Earn Awards at Conference

Women in Computer Science Earn Awards at Conference

April 3, 2012

Allana J. Johnson ’13 (at right) was awarded a full scholarship to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference in Baltimore, Md. this fall, as the result of winning the undergraduate research poster competition at the Indiana Celebration of Women in Computing Conference in Spencer, Ind.

Johnson attended the conference along with a dozen DePauw students and faculty members, including Khadija J. Stewart, assistant professor of computer science, and Gloria Childress Townsend, professor of computer science and coordinator of the Women in Science Program. Townsend is also the conference general chair.

Conference goals are to provide a low-cost, regionally tailored, intimate and supportive atmosphere for women in computing. The conference brings together women from industry and Indiana academic institutions, providing an ideal setting for both undergraduate and graduate students – sharing the same philosophy as the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the largest technical conference for women in computing.

At the conference in Spencer (attendees pictured above), students had the opportunity to present a poster or lightning talk. Poster topics included interesting class projects, undergraduate or graduate research, and works in progress. The purpose of the poster presentation is to highlight key questions and results of academic study and present them in a visually attractive manner.

Lightning talks are five-minute mini-presentations about various topics, including class projects and research, how to survive a computing major, programming tips and ideas about how to create a successful women in computing group.

Together, sophomores Yandan “Joey” Ni and Fei Wen (below) won the undergraduate lightning talk competition. Ni, a chemistry and computer science double major, and Fei, a computer science major, shared their views on robotics. They both agreed that the opportunity to attend an all-women conference was a great way to gain confidence and connect with other women in the field.

“Even though we presented to more than 100 people, I wasn’t nervous because robotics is something I’m naturally excited about,” Ni says. “Computers are progressing so quickly, but the field of robotics is stagnating, and we need more people to get involved. So, I was excited to get the message out to so many people.”

Ni started a robotics club on campus and asked Professor Townsend to be the sponsor. They have 20 members and meet on Saturdays.

Johnson, who is a member of the Women in Computer Science Program, was invited to go to the conference by Professor Townsend. “She encouraged me to present my summer research, which was conducted with four other computer science students – juniors Reid T. Conner, Jacob “Jake” J. Meyer, Vedant Singhania and John D. Hoover ’14 under the supervision of Professor of Computer Science David A. Berque and Professor of Psychology Terri L. Bonebright, in collaboration with Assistant Professor of Psychology Michael E. Roberts.  

“Our project was to create a program to discourage users from electronic distractions using persuasive technology,” Johnson explains. “For example, when you are working on a research paper on your computer, an electronic distraction may be checking email because it is an unrelated task. Our program would detect this distraction and use tools, such as pop-ups, that would persuade the user to get back on task.

“In order to gauge the effectiveness of our program, we conducted a field experiment in which students used our program and gave us feedback,” Johnson says. “Overall, we found that our project would be effective and that students would be willing to use it.”

When Johnson attends the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Maryland this fall, she will present her DePauw research poster at a much larger venue.

Johnson says the computer science department at DePauw is small, but opportunities – such as attending the conference – are great. “There might be two or three other women in upper-level courses,” Johnson explains. “Having the chance to see so many women involved in computer science at the graduate level and in industry is empowering.

“I didn’t come to DePauw thinking about computer science, but because DePauw encourages students to take a wide array of classes, I took a computer science class and loved it.”

Johnson explains that as a high school senior in Anderson, Ind., she had her college career planned out – until she visited DePauw. “I fell in love with the place. I had a full-tuition scholarship to go to Butler, and I turned it down. My parents asked, more than once, ‘Are you sure?’ I was positive. I have no regrets.”