CMC students find ‘real community’ and opportunity at Grace Hopper Celebration

During Family Weekend last year, Jennifer Zhuge ’21 saw President Hiram Chodosh walking on campus near North Quad. Since high school, it had been her dream to attend the annual Grace Hopper Celebration in Orlando. Wanting to seize the moment, she thought President Chodosh might help with funding for CMC students interested in the event, known as the world’s largest gathering of women technologists.

After a friendly exchange, he asked Zhuge to email him the details. A few weeks later, Zhuge checked her inbox and was notified by the Soll Center for Student Opportunity that it was opening applications to fund CMC students—11 in total—to attend Grace Hopper during fall semester.

Zhuge was floored.

“I just remember thinking, ‘This is amazing,’” Zhuge said. “CMC students are going to be able to go! And not just one or two, but 11. Wow.”

The chain reaction of one campus conversation leading to an email query leading to Soll Center funding leading to the first CMC cohort to attend the event is no accident. It’s baked into the DNA of a tight-knit campus that encourages and empowers students to not only take initiative (like randomly approaching the College’s president), but work with faculty and staff to find resources to bring those opportunities to life.

With computer and data science interest on the rise, Amy Flanagan ’11 said Soll Center staff knew Grace Hopper would be a perfect fit for CMC’s interdisciplinary focus—and the College’s integrated science future. Flanagan, assistant director of external relations, and Nereida Moussa, associate director for CMC’s Silicon Valley Program, also attended to serve as on-site resources for students. It added a layer of intentionality that allowed CMCers to maximize their time and energy at workshops, panels, and networking events—no small task given that Grace Hopper draws some 20,000 attendees from 78 countries.

“That career counselor piece for our students is something we really value,” Flanagan said. “There was an application process, much like for our networking treks. We advised students to bring hard copies of resumes for interviews. We had meetings beforehand so students knew how to prepare themselves—and really, to walk through the schedule so they could take advantage of the vast opportunities there.”

The results have been immediate. Because of their attendance at Grace Hopper, Zhuge and Nina Samko ’21 were able to interview with several companies on the spot. Zhuge is weighing multiple offers for summer; Samko accepted an internship as a technology analyst with Deutsche Bank in New York.

“None of that would have happened if we hadn’t been at Grace Hopper,” said Zhuge, a computer science major from Palo Alto. “Companies want to see students face-to-face. And I feel like that’s what CMC is so good at helping us with—how to be confident and share our strengths. It really mattered in those rooms.”

Samko, an economics and computer science double major, remembers hearing Harvey Mudd College students refer to Grace Hopper as a life-changing event. With an exciting summer ahead, and several more networking contacts in her back pocket, she’s appreciating the same effect.

“Initially, I feared that it might be really competitive. But it was not like that at all,” said Samko, a native of Moscow. “Everyone was on the same level. You could casually chat with people in line. It felt like a real community.”

That, above all, was the most impressive aspect to Zhuge. Though she’s used to technology talk coming from Silicon Valley, it was startling to see so many women with the same interests and passions, extending support together.

“I’m trying not to sound cliché, but it was all tremendously positive and uplifting,” Zhuge said. “You didn’t even have to be a software engineer—you could just want to support women in tech. It was surreal to be part of.”

Flanagan said the Soll Center plans to continue funding CMC students to attend Grace Hopper each fall—in particular, juniors since that’s the group recruiters were most interested in interviewing. The trip is worth it for the career fair alone, “the most impressive I’ve ever been to,” she said.

And to think, it all started with one casual conversation and an email.

“Pretty cool, huh?” Zhuge said. Yep, pretty cool.

—Thomas Rozwadowski