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Women in Computer Science

Haley Archer-McClellan ’15’s IUI Conference Experience

Aside 
Standing near the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa!

By Haley Archer-McClellan

Sooner or later, everything connects.

It’s the middle of finals week, and everyone is in their own headspace. As a student body, we’re over-caffeinated, we’ve had too little sleep, and I think it’s safe to say we aren’t busy thinking a lot about how beautiful the world around us is (although with the improved weather these past few days, that isn’t as true as it could be). However, all I can think about is this time a year ago. I was so excited to finish my second semester of Real Analysis, and little did I know I was about to get an email that would begin easily the best year of my life so far.

The night after finals ended, I got an email from a research lab offering me a position in their Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program for the summer. If you don’t know about the REU program, it’s a National Science Foundation-funded program aimed at, as the name implies, making research experience possible for undergraduate students who may be interested in graduate-level research. In particular, the program aims to provide opportunities for students from smaller liberal-arts colleges to experience research at larger research institutions. In my case, this was the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT), an Army-funded University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

A position in the Narrative Group at ICT seemed right up my alley – investigating how people experience, interpret, and narrate the events of their lives. I got to work with Andrew Gordon and Melissa Roemmele, two researchers in the Narrative Group, who are working on modeling behavior interpretation and narrative-generation. The program took about ten undergraduates and ICT also hosted many graduate interns and international research students. Over the ten weeks of the internship, I saw research more intimately than ever before, met some of the most intellectually passionate students I could imagine, and got to experience the bizarre transition from Lexington, Virginia to Los Angeles, California.

For some students who participate in REUs, the experience ends with the summer. However, I was lucky enough that Andrew and Melissa allowed me to help with a conference submission- a short paper describing the findings so far, as well as the methods we used in the first steps of generating narrative based on behavior. As an undergraduate still not really sure whether I was hoping to do research in the future, I wasn’t at all expecting the paper to be accepted into the conference. I had emailed my advisor, Professor Levy, about the possibility of department funding for conference travel, but I worked actively to keep my hopes down. When the date on which authors were supposed to be notified came and went, I was disappointed to be sure, but I figured it was for the best in the grand scheme of things.

A day or two later, I got an email from Andrew – the paper had been accepted. I was simultaneously stunned and excited, and emailed Professor Levy once again as a shot in the dark. “Professor Levy, is there any possibility that funding would still be possible for the conference? The paper was accepted.” With both department support and a scholarship for travel from the Association of Computer Machinery, I registered for the International Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces and booked my first international plane ticket, trying to figure out how I would make it from Lexington, Virginia all the way to Haifa, Israel during a school week.

Triangle Charades.1
Melissa and I acted out a quick game of Charades to convey the idea of interpreting behavior automatically.

The conference on Intelligent User Interfaces is focused on the intersection of Artificial Intelligence and Human-Computer Interaction. This takes a host of different meanings, from recommendation systems and intuitive map interfaces to multitouch typing, layered stereoscopic displays, and interface adaptation for users with impaired dexterity. If technology is becoming ubiquitous, how do we make it as intuitive as possible? Can we simulate the way we already think about and interact with the world?

Before this February, the farthest that I’d ever been from my hometown of Austin, Texas was the ski town of Whistler, British Columbia in 2003. The most indispensable part of this conference for me was the experience of being so far from home, meeting people from around the world who have written in the same field as me, and scheduling my time out of the conference so I could see as much as possible of Israel.

Standing in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem!

Because neither of us had ever been to Israel, Melissa Roemmele and I travelled together. We arrived in Tel Aviv a day early and, over the course of our time there, managed to see what we could of Jerusalem, Haifa, Akko, and Tel Aviv. The entire duration of the conference, I felt for the first time in quite a while that I truly knew what I was doing. Everything I had done up until then led me to a demo session meeting a graduate student whose father and sister both went to W&L; to sitting across from a graduate student from Japan who that night won Best Paper at the conference; to hearing about the potential of the Heider-Simmel Interactive Theater project from Wolfgang Wahlster, that day’s keynote speaker. I have never felt so continuously starstruck as I did talking over lunch to people I had earlier that day heard speak eloquently, hopefully about the future of intelligent interface design. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt as hopeful or as inspired as I did that week, and in the time following the conference.
In under a week I managed to see more of the world than in my twenty years combined. While it was a sharp change coming back to Lexington, back to classwork and short writing assignments and club meetings, I’ve never before felt like I know what I’m doing, like anything is possible and the future is right ahead of me. I’m not a sentimental person, but I can’t help but muse on how beautiful a year it’s been, on how far I’ve come and how much further there is to go.

As I go into my first final of the term today, for Women’s and Gender Studies, so many perspectives we’ve discussed this term revolve around the necessity of narrative. Everything we experience in life comes down to how we frame it. How we narrate the events in our lives says a lot about those events, but it also determines how we interpret those events. Sooner or later, everything connects. What a year and what a world.

 



Alumni News: Camille Cobb ’12 Receives NSF Research Fellowship

Congratulations to Camille Cobb ’12, who is a recipient of an NSF (National Science Foundation)graduate Research Fellowship. Camille Cobb is a University of Washington, Computer Science and Engineering Ph.D. student. Research Fellowships are among the most prestigious awards available to graduate students in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) field.

For more information:



Valerie Barr of Union College to Speak Dec 11

Valerie Barr, Professor of Computer Science at Union College, will be speaking at the Winter 2013 Fall Academy (Wed, Dec 11 at 12:30 p.m. in the IQ Center) about her experience encouraging faculty across discipines to pursue computing topics in their courses.  Her talk is entitled “Blake, Biofuel, and Bribery: Interdisciplinary Applications of Computing”.



W&L’s Sprenkle Selected to Commemorate 60th Anniversary of Graduate Research Fellowship Program

Washington and Lee’s Sara Sprenkle, associate professor of computer science, is one of 60 people profiled to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP).



W&L Students, Faculty, and Alumna Attend Grace Hopper 2013

Three W&L students, one faculty member, and one alumna attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The conference was the largest in GHC’s history with over 4800 attendees!

Ginny Huang '14, Professor Sara Sprenkle, Sam O'Dell '15, Cory Walker '15, and Camille Cobb '12 pose outside the Minneapolis Convention Center, under the Grace Hopper sign.
From left to right, Ginny Huang ’14, Professor Sara Sprenkle, Sam O’Dell ’15, Cory Walker ’15, and Camille Cobb ’12 pose outside the Minneapolis Convention Center under the Grace Hopper welcome sign.

Sam O’Dell ’15 and Cory Walker ’15 were awarded scholarships to attend the conference.  Ginny Huang ’14 was waitlisted for a scholarship, but W&L provided some funding to help defray the cost for her attending.  All three students had interviews with a variety of companies at the conference and were inspired and learned a lot from the various sessions.

Alumna Camille Cobb ’12–now a graduate student at the University of Washington–attended the conference through a scholarship that she earned as a Google intern this past summer.

The first time attending the conference is always an amazing experience–just ask Huang, who said, “I think the two best things about the conference are that 1) You get access to a lot of Computer Science opportunities! I always know that there is a great need for programmers in the market, but I never got a lot of actual access to companies that are looking for them and 2) I love all those gifts! My advice for people who attend in the future is only bring one shirt in your luggage to attend the first day of the conference. Grab the rest in the conference!  It’s a good way to reduce the weight you’re carrying.”

The second time attending isn’t too shabby either, according to O’Dell, “Going to Grace Hopper again this year was absolutely incredible. I loved going to the sessions and learning about the industry I hope to work in when I graduate. In addition, I had the chance to interview with a few companies at the conference and was fortunate enough to come away with an internship for next summer. The conference is definitely a great experience and full of opportunities for women hoping to go into computer science after they graduate.”

Poster co-chairs Sara Sprenkle (left) and Kaoutar El Maguari pose with Barbara Gee during the opening session.
Poster co-chairs Sara Sprenkle (left) and Kaoutar El Maghraouri (right) pose with Barbara Gee, ABI Vice President of Programs, (left) during the opening session.
Photo Courtesy: Anita Borg Institute

Professor Sara Sprenkle served as the co-chair of the poster session with Kaoutar El Maghraoui from IBM.  Their work included organizing the Student Research Competition, which involved 28 student participants–6 of whom became semi-finalists and presented their work in another session–and over 30 judges.  Sara and Kaoutar were quite pleased with the quality of the posters and presentations and the feedback the judges gave the students.

Walker summarized the experience: “The GHC offers the unique experience of having thousands of experienced women in technology gathered in one place, all willing to share their experiences and advice with one another. The opportunity to learn from technical women of all different backgrounds was to me the most worthwhile part of the Celebration.”



W&L Faculty to Present Collaborative Project at LAWDI Institute

Rebecca Benefiel, associate professor of classics at Washington and Lee University, and Sara Sprenkle, assistant professor of computer science at W&L, will present their prototype of a new web application involving the ancient graffiti of Pompeii at the Linked Ancient World Data Institute (LAWDI) later this month

W&L Faculty to Present Collaborative Project at LAWDI Institute

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W&L at Grace Hopper: Are We There Yet?

Six students and one faculty member represented Washington and Lee at this year’s Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Baltimore, MD.   The student-focused conference features both technical and professional development sessions.

Haley, Sam, Cory, and Deirdre at the entryway for the conference

Alicia Bargar ’13, Samantha O’Dell ’15, and Cory Walker ’15 were awarded ultra-competitive scholarships to attend.  Having three scholarship winners from W&L–out of 300 scholarships awarded and many, many more applicants–is quite impressive!  Haley Archer-McClellan ’15, Deirdre Tobin ’15, and Wenda Tu ’14 were generously supported by the Provost’s Office.

All students agreed the conference was an inspiring and motivating experience and the career fair opened their eyes to a lot of opportunities.

Some highlights:

  • Cory won a Ninja Coder t-shirt from Amazon for programming the Fibonacci sequence in Python
  • Wenda met an executive from GE and had an enlightening conversation that covered some diverse topics, including material for Wenda’s Feminist Social and Political Philosophy course.
Haley, Alicia, and Deirdre at the Inner Harbor. The RockIT Science and Systers 25th Anniversary Celebration was held at the Maryland Science Center.

Professor Sprenkle attended the conference as a representative of the GHC Academic Advisory Board, helped lead the Faculty Speed Networking session, helped organize the Faculty Lightning Talks, and served as a judge of the undergraduate student research competition.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Are We There Yet?”  While the answer seems to clearly be “no”, W&L is definitely making strides in the right direction.



W&L Computer Science Featured on WVTF

Sandy Hausman from WVTF reported a story about women in computer science at Washington and Lee.  The story features Professor Sara Sprenkle and students Camille Cobb ’12 and Cory Walker ’15.



W&L Women in Computer Science Continue to Buck National Trend

Link to the W&L news article



Women in Computer Science at W&L

Sophomore journalism and computer science double major Shannon McGovern created a feature about women in computer science at W&L for a journalism course.




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