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Computer science students earn research, student scholarships to attend Grace Hopper celebration

Four computer science undergraduate students finished the 2018-2019 academic year with news that they had earned scholarships to attend this year’s annual Grace Hopper Celebration, the world’s largest gathering of women technologists.

The students will attend the conference alongside more than 20,000 women—a mix of students and professionals—from around the world. The three-day event features professional development workshops, technical tracks, and an opportunity to network.

Navya Reddy and Sumayya Siddiqui, both juniors, were encouraged to apply for the Computer Research Association-Women’s Research Scholars Program by Elena Zheleva, an assistant professor in the computer science department at UIC. Reddy and Siddiqui interned with Zheleva last summer, conducting research on machine learning. Their internship was part of UIC’s Guaranteed Paid Internship Program.

“During the internship, we annotated news articles for key words that detected subjectivity to see if the articles had any biases in them. We then created a machine-learning model to detect accuracy,” Reddy said. “That experience is what got me interested in Grace Hopper.”

Siddiqui plans to take more courses on data science after her internship with Zheleva. Both women are working at UIC’s Electronic Visualization Laboratory this summer on the Continuum, an advanced smart room.

“Research helps me apply what I’ve been learning in my courses into real-world applications,” Siddiqui said. “It also allows for a lot of innovation and learning things about the world in general.”

Senior Aiswarya Baiju has worked with Professor Barbara Di Eugenio and Assistant Professor Brian Ziebart since her freshman year on a project to build an automated virtual health coach. In addition to her work at UIC, Baiju is working at Northwestern Medicine this summer as an information service intern.

“Research has been the most rewarding experience of my undergraduate years,” Baiju said. “Due to my work with the professors, I have keen interest in machine learning and natural language processing. Artificial intelligence has always been a topic which has fascinated me, and I was able to dive in deeper and learn so much about those fields.”

While Reddy and Siddiqui will be attending Grace Hopper Celebration for the first time, Baiju will be returning for a second visit.

“What I cherished the most was the increase in confidence that I was able to gain,” Baiju said. “This year, I would like to learn more about graduate school options and research careers in the computing field and attend as many sessions as possible to learn more about different technologies, as well as mentoring sessions to gain more insight from people who are experts in their field.”

Sabrina Jones, a sophomore, was thrilled to learn she was the recipient of the Grace Hopper Celebration Student Scholarship.

Jones is spending her summer as a teaching assistant for the UIC Women in Engineering Summer Program. Last year, she developed a program for students to tinker with electronics and computer hardware. The program, held at UIC, was in partnership with IEEE and with the City Colleges of Chicago and had 20 participants made up of UIC and Harold Washington College students. Over seven weeks, the group met at UIC’s MakerSpace to work with Arduinos, micro controllers, Raspberry Pi’s, solder, and learn other basics.

“I come from a background with no engineering experience, and I know how hard that is,” said Jones.  “I wanted something similar to a club where I could learn things but couldn’t find one. So, I thought instead of waiting I’d just start it myself.”

Jones, who attended City Colleges of Chicago’s Harold Washington College before transferring to UIC, said some of the club’s participants from Harold Washington have also transferred to UIC.

Jones will also be returning to the Grace Hopper Celebration after attending last year through the BRAID program. She found last year’s convention life-changing.

“It is just one of the most empowering and liberating experiences for any women in a STEM field,” Jones said. “We would sit in this stadium and there would be thousands of women who had done so much in their communities and around the world, talking about their challenges growing up in a field that is predominantly male dominated. It just gave me goosebumps. It was an incredible experience.”

The Grace Hopper Celebration will take place Orlando from October 1 to October 4, 2019. Current UIC computer science students seeking more information should contact their department’s student affairs office located in SEO 905.