The Power of Community

By Patty Lopez

Patty Lopez

Patty Lopez

I attended my first GHC Celebration in 2006 and immediately realized what was missing in my workplace. As one of the few technical women and as a Latina, I felt isolated both by gender and ethnicity. By fate or serendipity, I attended a GHC Birds of a Feather session, Latinas in Engineering, moderated by Gilda Garreton, Dilma da Silva, and Cecilia Aragon. We pulled our chairs into a circle and shared our stories. Afterward, Raquel Romano collected email addresses so that we could keep in touch. Post-conference, six of us kept in touch as we looked for way to stay connected. The Anita Borg Institute graciously offered to host us under the Systers community. Thus, Latinas in Computing was born!

Gilda and I manage the list, but the members make the work one of the most rewarding experiences. From a small beginning we have grown and expanded the ways our members interact and the projects we undertake.
Since that time, our LiC community has grown to over 160 members on our LiC/Systers list with almost 100 members on Facebook and over fifty on LinkedIn. Our members come from all over the globe, and are studying or working globally as well, though the majority of us are currently living in the US. We have partnerships with the Computing Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institutions (CAHSI) through Ann Gates, and with MentorNet, originally through Carol Muller, and more recently through Mary Fernandez.

Our senior LiC leadership team now has twenty members, and we have established our own website. Our members post and tweet actively, and GHC is the one conference we all try to attend annually. The Anita Borg Institute has identified sponsors for our annual Latinas in Computing Reception and Luncheon, and we are pleased that Lockheed Martin Corporation is our sponsor for our fifth consecutive Latinas in Computing Luncheon. The Wikipedia Foundation and Adobe Corporation have sponsored travel scholarships for outstanding Latinas in Computing student members, our 2011 reception was sponsored by Freddie Mac, and for 2012, MasterCard has graciously offered to host our reception.

We have worked through the Systers/LiC list to solicit ideas for GHC panels, workshops, presentations, and birds-of-a-feathers sessions, and our Speed Mentoring workshops have been among the most highly rated session at GHC for the past three years. Our members have participated in the Anita Borg Institute TechLeaders Workshop, presented at SACNAS, Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing, CRA-W Grad Cohort and Career Mentoring Workshops, partnered with AAAS, AWIS, NSF ADVANCE, and NASA to promote both the successes and unique challenges of Hispanic women. We have researched the number of Hispanic women receiving PhD’s in computer science using NSF’s Survey of Earned Doctorates database, and found that only 28 Hispanic females earned a PhD from 1995-2005, or roughly 2-3 per year. The more recent NSF data shows the numbers going up to 8-9 Hispanic female PhD’s annually, a three-fold increase.

Our work continues as we grow our junior leadership with opportunities to present their ideas and hone their communication and networking skills at conferences like Grace Hopper, and with our senior leadership, to recognize their longstanding contributions by nominating them for national awards. Several of our members have notable board and community service, including the Anita Borg Institute, CRA-W, CAHSI, NCWIT, and MentorNet, and several more are highly respected in their technical fields. Many of our members are active in their local communities, working on outreach and serving as role models and mentors. One of the biggest motivators is our ability to retain and develop Latinas already in the pipeline, especially those in graduate school and the workforce. The greatest benefit for me is that I am no longer isolated – I have developed an extensive support network that sustains, motivates, and inspires me.

For the past six years, the community that Systers has offered in concert with Latinas in Computing has provided a safe and nurturing environment to address concerns and challenges, and to share successes large and small. The opportunities to have an exciting career in computing have never been better. There are so many new areas to choose from, it can be somewhat overwhelming. There are also no shortages of opportunities to volunteer in your own community, whether it be local or virtual. Small roles grow leadership and lead to larger ones, such as serving on conference organizing committees and advisory boards.

It is tremendously rewarding to see the impact you can have on the larger community of computing. I urge you to participate in the technical community in a way that inspires others. Mentor others, take on leadership roles, give others leadership opportunities. No role is too small when you are passionate about inspiring others. Together, we are literally changing the face of computing!

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