‘Yes, You Belong’

Diverse tech students unite in networking event

Sterling Gonzalez // The Torch
Tanya Crenshaw delivers a speech aimed to encourage women to pursue jobs in computer science. Crenshaw has made her living working in computer technology as both a professor at the University of Portland and a Senior Software Engineer at Portland-based New Relic.

The Women in Computer Science of University of Oregon hosted the second annual Tech Together, a conference for students interested in pursuing computer science careers in the area.

“The event is coordinated as an opportunity for students to help network in the industry, gain mentorship and see the potential that the CS industry has to offer,” WiCS Chief of Recruiting and UO senior Emily Wu said.

Lane Computer Information Technology Instructor Marilou Good shared this opportunity with her students. “Whenever there’s a good opportunity for students to meet professionals in the field, the faculty in our department encourage students to attend,” said Good.

“It’s also a good opportunity for students who might not have considered completing a 4-year degree after attending Lane to meet CS students from the U of O. Only 2 of my students went but I think the event was interesting and worthwhile for them” Good added.

The schedule of events included a keynote speaker, a question-and-answer panel with current female industry professionals and some one-on-one resume-building opportunities.

Sterling Gonzalez // The Torch
University of Oregon student Emily Wu (center) focuses on Tanya Crenshaw as she delivers her speech. Wu is the Chief of Recruiting for Women in Computer Science at UO and is pursuing degrees in economics, mathematics and computer science.

Tanya Crenshaw, Senior Software Engineer at New Relic and this year’s keynote speaker, was optimistic about the prospects for further diversification in an industry that has been traditionally dominated by white males. She and others — like her longtime friend Kristin Buxton — told stories of 150-plus-person lecture halls with three non-white, non-male students in attendance during the 1990s. As time has passed, they have noticed a shift in the “vanilla frosting” theme that has been represented in CS industry jobs. However, a 2018 study by Stanford University shows that white males still make up a larger portion of the industry than all minority groups combined does.

“I want my field to be a place where lots of different types of people can feel a sense of belonging,” Crenshaw said, adding that events like this help to reinforce the optimism they have and the values that are so dear to them.

The message was positively received immediately.

“The event was so encouraging and positive, especially in helping students, both male and female, realize that there are spaces in the tech industry for all people from all backgrounds,” Ashley Merriner, an Oregon State University student attending the conference, said.

“Being told ‘yes, you belong’ from industry leaders like our keynote speaker was incredibly motivating,” Merriner added.

However, they realize this change won’t come overnight and hope people aren’t discouraged when their hard work doesn’t yield immediate change or results.

“When your head is down and you’re in it, you don’t realize what or how you are improving,” Crenshaw said. “Allow yourself a chance to get out into the world and see what you’ve changed and how or what you’ve improved.”

UO CS advisor Kelly Pratt has seen firsthand how this event and ones like this can drastically help people within the field, confessing that “CS can be full of introverts, and this can offer an example of how to network within the industry.”

Speakers at the event went as far as taking time out of their talks to encourage and even force networking to take place right in the auditorium. This included having attendees get out of their seats to introduce themselves to someone else in the room and even urging them to exchange contact information and send a follow-up text or email.

WiCS have high hopes for increased diversity at future events and within the industry. Bringing in real life examples seems to be the best way to accomplish that. As Crenshaw said, “I want to offer inclusion here in a major that has lacked it in the past, and I offer a living example of how it’s done.” With the help of a recent grant, WiCS will be able to hold this event for the foreseeable future.