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Grace Hopper Celebration Chooses UH Ph.D. Student for Conference Scholarship

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Melanie Ziems
Himani Agrawal received a full scholarship to attend the 2014 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.
Himani Agrawal received a full scholarship to attend the 2014 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, less than one of every four workers in a STEM field in the United States is a woman. The science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields are unequivocally male-dominated, and while more movements are gaining traction in encouraging women to pursue STEM careers, most U.S. women are still choosing other career paths.

Enter the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the world’s largest technical conference dedicated to bringing the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront. The conference is named for U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, an early computer scientist and one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer as well as  the first compiler for a computer programming language. The gathering will take place in October in Phoenix, and the group expects to attract close to 10,000 women from around the world.

Himani Agrawal, a Ph.D. student studying mechanical engineering at the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering, is one of those women. She received a full scholarship to attend the conference free of charge.

“This conference is about celebration,” Agrawal said. “The conference is to celebrate the successes of women in computing. This conference encourages women to take careers in STEM fields, and it’s about the recruitment and retention of women in these fields.”  Agrawal said she discovered her love of biology and mathematics as a student in India, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. Computing, she says, is the link that bridges the gap between all the STEM fields.

During her undergraduate education, Agrawal said she experienced the gender disparity issue first hand. “My [undergraduate class] was less than 10 percent women. The whole group was divided into sub-batches, and I was the only woman in my sub-batch,” she said. “In the beginning, it was a bit difficult because I was from a school of all females, and then I suddenly got into a situation where I was the one female in the entire sub-batch… But I love science, I love math, and I think match and science are not just for men. They are for everyone. Everyone can love math and science. It’s not gender specific.”

At the Cullen College, Agrawal is active in the Society of Women Engineers’ (SWE) new graduate student group , and she volunteered as a lecturer for last summer’s G.R.A.D.E. (Girls Reaching and Demonstrating Excellence) Camp sessions. She said she hopes the conference will further inspire her to empower her fellow female engineers. The equality, she says, can only benefit everyone.

“You really make a contribution to society by being in technology. It’s really important that women pursue STEM fields, because right now, the percentage of women taking careers in STEM fields is going down. When you see the top leadership positions, there are very, very few women in technology. Recently, I saw a news story that said  only 5percent of CEO’s in technology companies are women.

“Our countries and our companies are not run by women, they’re run by men. The women’s voices are not heard equally.”

Scholarship applications are closed, but registration for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is still open. Learn more about the conference and register here.

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