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Award to Graduate Women in Computing at UC San Diego to Help Expand Mentoring

San Diego, CA, January 13, 2017 -- Mentoring for women who are graduate students in computer science on campus got a boost this week, when the University of California San Diego chapter of Graduate Women in Computing received an award from the National Center for Women and Information Technology to support their programs. The $5,000 Amplification Award from the National Center is co-sponsored by Google.org and the Association for Computing Machinery’s Council on Women in Computing.

“Mentoring is a critical piece of community building and student success, particularly for women and other students who are underrepresented in computer science,” said computer science professor Christine Alvarado, who serves as the GradWIC’s faculty mentor here. “It's more difficult for these students to naturally connect with others who may share their experiences in the field because they are in the minority.  This award not only helps GradWIC build these important mentoring relationships, but also serves to recognize GradWIC's strong leadership.”

Alvarado notes that the award will help build ties between the women graduate and undergraduate students in computer science. “It’s something that the two groups have been talking about for a while, so it’s exciting to see it happening,” she said.

With this new funding, GradWIC plans to develop a mentorship program for graduate and undergraduate students in order to strengthen the support network available for students, especially women in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. The organization also plans to pair mentors and mentees based not just on their technical interests, but mutual social interests as well, because a strong social network is critical to academic and eventually professional success. Starting in fall 2017, the mentorship program will also actively reach out to newly-arriving computer science students to pair them with mentors at the very beginning of their academic careers.

Ailie Fraser is the current president of GradWIC.

“We intend for this to be a sustained effort that is an integral part of our department’s culture,” said third-year Ph.D. student Ailie Fraser, current president of GradWIC. “In a few years’ time, we should be able to reach the majority of graduate students and a large percentage of undergraduates through the program.”

At UC San Diego, only roughly 20 percent of computer science undergraduate students are women. At the graduate level, women make up 29 percent of the student population in the department. The existence of groups such as GradWIC, as well as Women in Computing at the undergraduate level generally help campuses increase women’s confidence in their technical studies. Such groups also help reduce feelings of isolation, dispel common myths and stereotypes, and empower students to actively recruit and mentor other women.

In addition to its current members, GradWIC hopes to recruit more mentors from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at large, pushing the number of mentors to 40 or more. “With each mentor advising one or two students, the program could involve and benefit as many as 100 students at its inception this winter and spring,” said second-year Ph.D. student and GradWIC event coordinator Antonella Wilby.

Since 2011, the NCWIT Student Seed Fund has invested over $300,000 in more than 150 student-run programs for women in computing at non-profit, U.S. academic member institutions nationwide. Programs have included programming workshops, tech summits, peer mentoring and support, professional training, after-school programs, and the creation of multimedia materials — all aimed at increasing recruitment and retention of women and other underrepresented groups in computing.

“Student computing groups are an important component of the undergraduate experience and should not be overlooked or undervalued,” said NCWIT CEO and Co-founder Lucy Sanders. “These student-led efforts serve as a foundation of encouragement and support for aspiring technical graduates and professionals.”

The National Center for Women & Information Technology is a non-profit community of more than 850 universities, companies, non-profits, and government organizations nationwide working to increase women’s participation in computing and technology. 

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