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Virginia Gresham ’17 soon will be networking with some of technology’s most influential people after earning a scholarship to the world’s largest gathering of women in computer science.
Gresham recently won a grant to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Phoenix from Oct. 8-10. The conference, named for a naval rear admiral who helped pioneer computer coding language, honors the critical roles of women as computer scientists and engineers.
As a sophomore, Gresham is among the youngest women invited to the Celebration, which awarded scholarships to only about 25 percent of applicants. She is the second Connecticut College student to earn a conference scholarship, following Amanda Crawford ’14, who encouraged Gresham and her classmates to apply.
“Connecticut College has given me more opportunities to succeed in computer science than I would have found at a huge tech school,” Gresham said. “My success here is not just based on a class rank or a number. My professors get to know me and inspire me to pursue my interests.”
Gresham’s scholarship covers the cost to attend the conference, as well as networking and collaborating with other top students and industry leaders.
“I’m excited for the opportunity to learn from people who are making a difference in their fields,” Gresham said. “The most important thing is seeing how all of the different perspectives in computer science come together to create a united community.”
Gresham has always been fascinated with computers and robotics — as a high school student, she would go to her father’s workplace and experiment with a Da Vinci surgical robot — but she never intended to pursue a career in computing until she took her first class with Christine Chung, the Jean C. Tempel ’65 Assistant Professor of Computer Science. Inspired by the possibilities for women in one of the world’s fastest-growing industries, Gresham declared her major in computer science.
Chung said Gresham has become a student leader in the program and an inspiration to her peers. “Virginia is passionate about the important role of women in computer science and the Grace Hopper Celebration will give her so many fresh perspectives that she can share with her classmates,” Chung said.
The Celebration is an outstanding professional opportunity for Gresham, and includes a three-day job fair and the chance to interact with many conference sponsors including, Apple, Google, Facebook and IBM. She has been preparing to make a great impression with support from the College’s four-year career program, whose advisers have coached her on everything from building a strong resume to developing networking skills that will highlight her many talents, interests and potential.
And Gresham already has experience with making an indelible impression. As a high school student, she raised $5,800 to install historic plaques on the town green lamp posts in Guilford, Conn., to enable people to take self-guided walking tours of her hometown’s rich history. She earned a Girl Scout Gold Award for the effort.
Gresham hopes that her experience at the Celebration will benefit other young women at Connecticut College interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. She is active in the College’s Anita Borg Institute Lean-in Circle, which aims to create a nurturing environment for women in technology. Her interests and service extend beyond computing to the College’s Office of Sustainability, where she co-supervises other fellows in their community projects.
“The idea is to keep working hard and have fun,” Gresham said. “When it stops being fun, that’s when you need to reassess what you’re doing. I’m having a lot of fun in computer science, and I’m eager to continue exploring the field.”