Extraordinary CONNECTions

by Tracy Camp

Tracy Camp with Daughter

Tracy Camp

I met Anita as a brand-new Assistant Professor in 1994. That meeting, and all her inspiring efforts for women in computing, changed my life in a very positive way. Over the years that inspiration lead me to develop technology that assists women and underrepresented minority conference attendees to network efficiently and effectively. Development of this technology is one of the research projects I lead as a university professor.

As with any research project, you first need to determine the goals. We know that a lack of mentors and the feeling of isolation are two significant obstacles for full participation. The ultimate goal for conferences and meetings that work to Broaden Participation in Computing (BPC) is to offer an opportunity for under-represented students and professionals to connect with each other. By connecting with others, we support each other to advance professionally, we find new collaborators for projects, we share experiences, etc. These personal connections are key to retaining more underrepresented individuals at all levels. In other words, networking at conferences such as the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the Rocky Mountain Celebration of Women in Computing, and the CRA-W Graduate Cohort Workshop is key to ensure underrepresented members in computing are both retained and successful.

My technical research area is in computer networks (specifically mobile and wireless sensor networks), so it seemed natural to develop technology to facilitate professional networking. According to attendees of previous conferences, networking is an extremely valuable piece of the conference. Technology such as our CONNECT project play an important role in helping underrepresented conference attendees meet their networking goals and reduce the barriers. In other words, CONNECT helps members of the underrepresented population meet the people that they need to meet to take the next step forward.

CONNECT is a technological tool that provides an online participant directory, which is secure behind a login facility. The CONNECT directory allows attendees to, for example, search for other attendees who are somehow similar (e.g., similar research areas or similar home location), upload profile pictures to match a face with a person’s name, and send a message to another attendee. Deployment of the CONNECT system at a conference also includes networking encouragement, practical tips, and follow-up reminders in order to encourage conference attendees to successfully build the connections that they require for future success.

A very early version of CONNECT, which used bar codes on attendee badges and manual scanning to make connections, appeared at the 2008 and 2009 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. Using feedback from these two deployments, we re-designed CONNECT to create a more effective system. The current version of CONNECT is all online, and includes smartphone applications and a web interface.

CONNECT was recently deployed at Grad Cohort 2012, which was held in Seattle (April 2012). After Grad Cohort, 197 of the 276 attendees responded to the evaluation survey. The following summarizes the results from this survey evaluation:

85.4% of the Grad Cohort attendees updated their CONNECT profile.
89.3% were satisfied or very satisfied with their CONNECT experience.
80.9% used the search facility to learn of other people attending.
67.7% networked 3+ attendees due to CONNECT search results.
77.7% found profile photos of attendees were valuable.
86% would like to use CONNECT again at a future conference.

I am involved in several research projects where we work to have a positive impact on the world (e.g., avalanche monitoring and earth dam/levee failure). CONNECT, however, is one of my favorite projects because its purpose is to help us connect. With CONNECT, I can make a list of people to meet before a conference actually begins, set up specific meetings times, and be more productive during the event. Since professional networking is part of our work (netWORK) and key to success, I love that CONNECT can make this job a bit easier.

Anita was a huge inspiration when I first started my career; she encouraged and supported me to incorporate efforts for women in computing in my day-to-day life. I challenge each of you to inspire others and find people that inspire you. Start today! Take an interest in someone else’s research. Encourage others to pursue things they are passionate about. Find people in the community that inspire you, and then work to meet them. With the right inspiration, you can achieve more than you realize, and have enormous fun along the way. I listened closely to Anita’s encouragement 15+ years ago. I’ve never looked back and am, therefore, honored to contribute to Anita’s Quilt!

Additional resources for Women in research:
CRA-W Programs and Career Mentoring Workshops
Women in Computing

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