Celebrating the Evolution of ACM-W Scholarships: Empowering Women in Computing
- Bushra Anjum (Doximity, California, US; ACM-W Standing committee chair)
- Viviana Bono (University of Torino, Italy; ACM-W Scholarship chair Aug 2018-Feb 2023)
- Sharon Kang (Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts, US; ACM intern, Spring-Summer 2022)
- Yelena Mejova (ISI Foundation, Torino, Italy; member of the ACM-W Scholarships committee)
- Elaine Weyuker (University of Central Florida, US; founder of the ACM-W Scholarships program)
ACM-W scholarships have been instrumental in providing crucial support for women in computer science and related fields, enabling them to attend pivotal computing research conferences. These scholarships have not only paved the way for educational growth but also fostered diverse and impactful careers. Join us as we explore in this article the history, impact, and future of the ACM-W Scholarship program.
The Scholarships History project team followed up on the historical scholarship data since its inception in 2006 to do a longitudinal assessment of the impact of the scholarship on the educational trajectory and career path of our scholars. The immense work of retrieving scholars, contacting them for their availability for a small survey on their participation in the ACM-W Scholarship program, and experimental data visualization was done by our ACM intern, Sharon Kang. Over the past year, we have been publishing the profiles of selected scholars as part of the “Above and Beyond Scholarship” blog series. In this post, we highlight the learnings from the project.
How was the ACM-W Scholarship program born?
Elaine Weyuker, the founder of the Program, saw an urgent need for the program when she was the chair of ACM-W in 2004: “I felt we really needed something that could serve as a recruitment and retention program for young women, particularly something that would encourage them to go on to graduate school. Having taught at NYU, a major research institution, for almost 20 years, I saw how very few of our undergraduate women students went on to get PhDs, and I was certain that that was even more true for students coming from non-research (teaching) colleges.”
The initial program started with a modest budget of $5,000 from ACM-W, and Elaine embarked on an ambitious campaign, reaching out to the chairs of every Computer Science department that is an ACM institutional member, with a request to identify and nominate their top women students and match funding.
“The first year, we selected 10 students giving each $500 and wrote to their department chair and dean asking them to at least match our scholarship. I also wrote to the chair of each selected conference and asked them to waive the registration fee for our scholars and provide a mentor to help them navigate the conference so that they really benefit from the experience. The vision was to particularly target undergraduate women students who came from non-top tier schools or students who were pursuing a terminal Master’s degree to encourage them to continue,” Elaine explained.
Over nearly two decades, the program expanded by engaging industry partners and has now helped hundreds of young women worldwide seize the opportunity it offers.
The research paints a compelling picture of demographic diversity, successful advancement in studies, and diverse career paths.
Demographic diversity of our scholars?
While the USA and India have the highest number of scholars, the scholarships were awarded to scholars coming from 44 different countries.
How did our scholars advance in our studies?
We observe a high completion rate of degrees at all levels and Undergraduate and Master’s students embarking on Master’s and PhD degrees. Essentially, 68% of the undergraduate scholars proceeded to complete a graduate degree, either a Master’s or a Ph.D. in computing. 30% of the scholars who were Masters students at the time of scholarship went ahead and completed a Ph.D. degree.
What do our scholars do now?
A large percentage of our scholars continued their journey as researchers in academia, followed by practitioners in software, systems, and hardware and researchers in industry. They make up 62% of the respondents; we do also see a diversity of roles ranging from consultants to entrepreneurs.
What has been a highlight of attending their conference?
Scholars who received ACM-W scholarships share their experiences through three overarching themes:
1. Validation and Self-confidence
“Receiving the ACM-W scholarship gave me validation of my abilities at a time when I was not receiving very much from my graduate program. Although the scholarship provided much-needed financial support for attending a valuable conference, simply receiving the award itself was extremely helpful for my overall confidence and helping me finish my Ph.D.,” expressed a scholar from 2010.
“It helped me to realize that women can be very successful in both academia and industry. I become more proud of my professional experience,” noted another scholar from 2011.
“I started to take pride in the fact that I’m in the Computing field as a woman,” concluded another 2015 scholar.
2. Inspiration to continue with graduate studies
“Had I not attended, I would likely not have applied to the PhD program at Stanford; attending graduate school was a pivotal choice in shaping my career,” said a scholar from 2007.
“The conference exposed me to research and helped me decide to go to grad school for a PhD. The conference was held at CMU, and attending the conference helped me meet my future PhD advisor at CMU”, noted another scholar from 2007.
“Attending the conference helped me realize that I wanted to proceed with a career in research, and it is one of the main reasons I applied for a PhD,” shared a scholar from 2019.
3. Building a lasting network of opportunities
“Being able to attend the ICPC conference thanks to the ACM-W scholarship helped me feel part of a research community and feel like I have found my place in the field. I have been involved with that conference (ICPC) ever since, acting as Steering Committee Member, Steering Committee Chair, Program Chair, Track Chair, and Publicity Chair over the years since the first conference I attended. It has remained the conference and the community where I feel most comfortable and welcome, all thanks to that first conference I was able to attend,” recounted a scholar from 2008.
“The networking at that conference helped me make connections that led to my first job after my master’s,” noted a scholar from 2011.
“I could attend the conference thanks to the scholarship and was offered a postdoctoral fellowship during this conference,” explained another scholar from 2013.
As we reflect on the journey from 2006 to 2021, connecting with past scholars has been both insightful and rewarding. Several key conclusions have emerged:
- The opportunity to attend a Computer Science research conference when one is a student is invaluable with respect to future professional choices.
- There is a good diversity among the scholars’ countries of origin, but we acknowledge we have more work to do.
- Our scholars predominantly shared feelings of gratitude towards ACM-W and shared eagerness to give back.
As we expand the scholarship criteria to non-CS and interdisciplinary students engaging in computing research, we believe we are moving in a step in the right direction. Since May 2020, we have considered applications from Mathematics, Statistics, Media studies, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Design, Transport Studies, Life Sciences and Health, Medicine, Learning Technologies, Neuroscience, Veterinary Sciences, and Mechanical engineering. In the span of August 2020 to February 2023, 27 applicants from non-CS departments have applied for the scholarship, and 12 were awarded; that is, on average, 3 out of 4 cycles see a non-CS applicant awarded a scholarship. We look forward to supporting even more women as they pursue their dreams in computing.
Current Scholarship Offerings and Application Procedure
The current ACM-W scholarship program for women students—both undergraduate and graduate—in computer science and correlated disciplines is categorized into two types based on the geographical proximity of the computing research conference:
- up to $600 for intra-continental and
- up to $1200 for intercontinental conference travel.
To apply, candidates are required to create an ACM web account and fill out the scholarship application form. The form encapsulates personal details, specifics about the conference they wish to attend, a statement articulating the motivation behind attending the conference, and a support letter from their academic advisor. We at ACM-W ardently encourage the home departments of our scholarship recipients to match the scholarship award, thus locally acknowledging and celebrating the students’ achievements. This initiative not only provides financial support but also cultivates a community of women scholars, where we together foster a culture of inclusivity and academic excellence in the field of computing.
The application timelines are meticulously structured with six distinct deadlines throughout the year, catering to different conference dates. For instance, for conferences occurring between December 1, 2023, and January 30, 2024, the application deadline is set for October 15, 2023. All dates can be found on the ACM-W scholarships page. We are looking forward to receiving your applications.