Student Highlights

Nadya PenaDSC_7219

Senior computer science major

Lead organizer of HackTCNJ, President of Women in Computing Science, President of TCNJ’s chapter of Association for Computing Machinery

Nadya Pena, center, discusses their project with her HackTCNJ team.

Nadya Pena spent part of her winter break using Python, a popular computer programming language. Pena used Python to create a web scraper that would extract New York City apartment prices off Craigslist because of an internship she accepted there. After five hours of learning the language, following tutorials and applying the features to her program, Pena had collected the data but the rest has become an ongoing process.

Although Craigslist has a filter system that could find her apartment prices, Pena was also interested in acquiring the data and observing the price trends at different times and days. According to Pena, there are several reasons a student should learn Python and web scraping because of the increasing need to understand and utilize data.

“Data is extremely valuable and it’s not something that only big businesses have access to; data is all around us and we can all harvest it, with the right tools,” said Pena.

 Grace Hopper Conference

Eight iPics scholars accompanied by Dr. Pulimood attended the GHC/1, a one-day regional Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference on Wednesday, March 18 in the Time Life Building in New York City to learn about new technology trends and meet accomplished women in various stages of their technology careers.

The keynote speaker at the conference was Deborah Estrin, a professor of computer science at Cornell Tech, who discussed innovation in New York City. The conference also included a career fair and a panel of women in various technology fields sharing how innovations in the City have affected them and their careers.

Gottlob said his favorite part of the conference was IBM’s Watson project and other iPics scholars agree.

“My favorite … (was) Watson, a computer with a seemingly infinite knowledge about anything you ‘train’ it to do using human language instead of code. I saw Watson win Jeopardy, so I was excited to hear about what kinds of things they are ‘training’ this computer to do,” Ursula Widocki, a freshman applied mathematics major and iPics scholar, said. “Watson is not designed to replace people, but to work with them.”

Aside from learning about developing technologies, iPics scholars left the conference with more knowledge about themselves and their futures than before. Torn between math, technology and chemistry, Widocki said she was relieved when a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute computer science professor told students that it was acceptable to be unsure of what they want to do with their lives yet.

Gottlob said he benefited most from learning about how how data scientists come from varying academic backgrounds, including those outside of the STEM fields.

“It shows that anyone can pick up new skills and knowledge regardless of background and that the only prerequisite is an aptitude to learn,” Gottlob said. “It is encouraging to hear that I will be able to take my career in many different directions in the future and can change my focus at almost any time.”

In addition to learning about himself, Gottlob also witnessed the importance of bringing women together at a conference like Grace Hopper. Conferences like this one allow women to come together, see that they are not alone and encourage each other to thrive until they reach their full potential in their chosen profession, Gottlob said.

“We are the minority, but hopefully a minority on the rise,” Widocki said. “Conferences like Grace Hopper allow innovative, ambitious and creative women to network and try to minimize the gender gap in computational fields.”

Brittany Plummer, a sophomore computer science major and iPics scholar, is a member of Women in Computing and Science and the co-ed community service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega.

The encouragement of her mother, who majored in computer science in college, and interest in the subject during high school pushed Plummer to pursue the major when she came to the College. So far, Plummer has enjoyed her software engineering class the most because of the engaging and collaborative work environment. During the College’s hackathon in February, Plummer did not complete a project but focused on acquiring new skills and knowledge of topics like android development.

“The iPics program has really helped me to meet other people in my field and has allowed me to think about projects that I would possibly like to pursue in the future,” Plummer said.

Since Plummer is a woman pursuing a male-dominated field, she said it is difficult to find other women she can connect to and work with in the major.

“I believe that there are so few women in computer science due to the stereotype surrounding the field,” Plummer said. “When many people think of a programmer, they often think of a man. It is difficult for women to imagine themselves as a programmer and they may be intimidated by the fact that there are so few women in the field.”