History of ACM-W Scholarships with Elaine Weyuker

This month we take the opportunity of the remodeling of the ACM-W newsletter  to discuss a little of the history of the program of scholarships and its committee. There is no one better to describe the program and history that its initiator Professor Elaine Weyuker (See her in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elaine_Weyuker).

So we have asked Professor  Weyuker (EW below)  four questions on the Scholarships Program and its history. These questions and her replies are below. We hope you’ll enjoy reading about our history! Perhaps some of our readers will join us in sending other questions (historical or otherwise) to the Scholarship committee. We cannot guarantee answers, but we can try to find some responses for you on the issues of the Scholarship program!

Q1. When did the Scholarship program start? Who propose it initially and to whom?

EW: In 2004, Maria Klawe who was just ending her ACM Presidency (Dave Patterson was the new president) asked me to co-chair ACM-W with Ursula Martin, then a professor at St Andrews in the UK. I agreed and then after a year of working together, Ursula stepped down entirely and I became chair.

ACM-W was at the time a not-terribly active group. When I took on the chair position alone in 2005, I initiated several new projects. The one nearest and dearest to my heart was the scholarship program. ACM-W had a very small budget at the time and I carried enough money from that to fund I believe 5 young women to attend conferences during the year. I wrote to all of the degree-granting programs I could, and made presentations to the SIG board chairs asking them to help and waive conference registration fees. Any woman that won one of the scholarships, I wrote to their dean and told them how proud they should be of this remarkable young woman and asked them to provide matching funds. I asked Valerie Barr (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valerie_Barr), who I had known from the days when she was a beginning graduate student at NYU and I was a brand new faculty there, and asked her to help me run this program which I felt could be a wonderful recruitment/retention tool to help young women to aspire to something great. After the first year, I asked Valerie to continue running the scholarship program on her own while I continued as ACM-W chair through the reigns of the next 4 or so ACM presidents. When the program started to grow because we started getting outside funding, Valerie needed additional help and so I asked Adriana Compagnoni (Stevens Institute of Technology) to join and help Valerie with the program. Eventually, I think in 2012, Valerie succeeded me as ACM-W chair and Adriana took over running the scholarship program. When I stepped down at ACM-W chair, I became a member of the scholarship selection committee.

Q2. What do you think is the main motivation for the program?

I went to an undergraduate college and my family was working class, and I knew there were lots of women with wonderful talent who would never reach their full potential because they didn’t even know about research, or ever think of going to graduate school. So my motivation was to help these young women see that there was a whole world out there that might be wonderfully interesting and to give them a peek at this world and thereby encourage them to aspire to something great. My ideal recipient was an undergraduate who after going to a conference might say to herself: “Wow – I want to do that” The other perfect candidate in my eyes was a terminal Masters student who was also not involved in research. I hoped that by attending a research conference and finding out about how exciting research can be, she would want to continue on to a PhD. The other group that I hoped to target was the new graduate student who did not yet have research funding and was not at one of the “rich universities” that could afford to cover the costs. To me the goal has always been to help the young woman who is has never gone to a research conference get their first taste of research which I hoped could be a life-changer for them.

Q3. Did you think it would take this long to get women into computing?

Sadly no. I received my PhD in Computer Science in 1977 – the statistics have not changed significantly in terms of the percentage of women in the field in more than 40 years, but we keep trying!

Q4. What are your expectations for the program now?

I hope it will continue to grow with the help of people like you who are committed to expanding the pipeline, and the generosity of companies that understand that increased diversity means that there is more talent available which is good for everyone.

We thank Professor Weyuker for her admirable work on behalf of the ACM-W, of the students and especially for her dedication to the Scholarship program.

The next application deadline is April 15 for conferences taking place in Jun 1 – July 31, 2020.   

If you have any questions, please contact the scholarship committee chair Prof. Viviana Bono, at bono@di.unito.it.