Association for Computing Machinery – Women’s Chapter at UWB: Supporting and Celebrating Women in Computing

Written by: Michael Mapanao; Student Reporter

The Association for Computing Machinery is the largest computing organization nationwide. It focuses on promoting professional and educational development in the field of computer science. The ACM – Women’s Chapter at UW Bothell was established in January 2020 by Professor Geetha Thamilarasu with the intention to support, engage, and inspire women throughout their college time and into their future careers. ACM-W allows women to contribute with ACM and grow skills in their programming abilities, confidently collaborate, and attend events present with technical women leaders.

Professor Thamilarasu, founder of the ACM-W chapter at UW Bothell is an Associate Professor and holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Engineering from the State University of New York in Buffalo. Her intention when creating the chapter was to “support and increase retention of women in computer science.” She specializes in cybersecurity and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in computer science and cybersecurity. Professor Thamilarasu also runs a research group called MEWS (Mobile Embedded and Wireless Security) that focuses on security of mobile systems and emerging network technologies.

Professor Thamilarasu hopes to provide an environment for women that prepares them for their future careers. When she attended her graduate program, she did not feel discouraged being the only woman in her graduate class, but wished she had other women who could relate to the obstacles she encountered. Professor Thamilarasu believes that women face different challenges in the field of computer science, and when it comes time to interview at predominantly male tech companies, women need the confidence to tackle these issues. She states “Women consistently don’t ask for a higher salary, and they end up getting lower-paid jobs.” The ACM-W chapter equips women with the necessary skills to have a level playing field and a successful future.

   Despite ACM-W having a rocky start due to the pandemic, the club is looking to expand the chapter outside the local spectrum to invite new perspectives on challenges around the world. The chapter also provides women with the experience for preparing for the technical concepts asked in interviews. Some of the individual gains that one can receive from the club is the necessary confidence, support, and inspiration when present during a conference, panel, or webinar.

A recap of ACM-W’s greatest achievements this last year included hackathons, watch parties, and panels. The hackathon UWB Hacks From Home 2021 last year was hosted online and allowed students to create a program that would help make everyone deal with working at home easier. The faculty would then judge your program. Some of the watch parties that were present last year included celebrating technology leaders, women in data, and machine learning careers. Leaders present spoke on their career fields regarding UI, UX, and machine learning. The ability to have these watch parties allows students to communicate and ask questions about the challenges other women have faced.

Moreover, students were allowed to attend the Women’s Internship Panel which included UW CSS alumni who had completed an internship and could present the internship process to students from a woman’s perspective. Future goals of ACM-W include hosting career interview panels with UW alumni guest speakers and industry personnel to provide insight on how to prepare for the career interviews. Students can also expect a collaboration with the club Girls Who Code in the future as well as a panel to deal with imposter syndrome, something Professor Thamilarasu believes is a “prevalent problem in the industry and classroom environment.”

The ACM-W is available to join for anyone that identifies as a woman, including transgender, cisgender, or non-binary people. The ideal candidate for ACM-W requires a passionate drive within the field of computer science. This may also include leadership and the ability to help other women succeed through college and their future endeavors. It’s important and necessary to devout a time commitment as the chapter requires engagement to run and host events. If you are interested, you can contact Professor Thamilarasu directly via email at geetha@uw.edu or through the ACM chapter. ACM-W is currently looking for new members who can fill a leadership role but all are encouraged to join if interested.

When it comes to finding success to grow professionally, Professor Thamilarasu says that it’s important that “Everybody finds the right mentor, that’s going to go a long way, I think a lot of us try to do it by ourselves and that’s part of the problem.”

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