In my first semester at Cornell, I decided to sign up for WICC’s (Women in Computing at Cornell’s) Lunch Bunch Program, which allowed female undergraduate students to converse with professors over a meal. In one session, there were around 7 other female undergraduates interested in computing majors getting to know Madeleine Udell, a professor in the Operations Research and Information Engineering department at Cornell. After hearing her impressive list of achievements, I needed to know: How had her experience as a woman in a predominantly male field been? She chuckled when I asked this and told me that she actually pushes against the status quo; she hasn’t had many terrible memories in which she was pushed against because of her gender. I almost did not believe her, until I realized that it was her resilient mindset that allowed her to not just come out of university and the workplace unscathed, but also stronger.
I was still working on this so-called resilient mindset. Coming into university is an immediate footrace to settle down and find a new home in rural Ithaca with more than 20,000 undergraduate students. With so many unfamiliar faces, it was only natural that we judged each other more by first glance. For me, this became apparent in discussion sections for multivariable calculus, where I started becoming more and more self-conscious each time I was interrupted or my participation was brushed off. Slowly but surely, I began to piece together the connection between gender distributions between classmates and their correlation with certain peer-to-peer interactions in classrooms — something that had been extremely subtle in high school.
At the time, I couldn’t put exactly what I was feeling into words. I just knew that participating in WICC programs and going to their events made me feel more comfortable in the computing community at Cornell — so a few months later I applied to become a part of the executive board.
Fast forward around one year and three months later, WICC has become a wholeheartedly welcoming community for me. It is a group of women that have not only been full of great advice, friends and role models, but also an amazing support system that hypes each other up at every chance — and that has been priceless.
Through my past roles as Publicity Director, Vice President of Brand, and now as Co-President, I’ve been able to appreciate the ins and outs of our motivated and organized e-board of 35 women, as well as the growing number of initiatives we hold every semester. At our core, we focus on two main aspects: resources and community.
Our resources extend from our twice-a-week listserv that reaches over a thousand members of the Cornell community to the aforementioned Lunch Bunch program that gives students a chance to speak personally with their professors. Our outreach team spearheads Girls Who Code programs for local middle and high school students, and we compile all our active member resumes into one large book for companies to access in hopes of getting women out in industry.
Our community only continues to grow and encompass all students who come to our events and participate in our numerous programs. Through our mentorship program, we match upperclassmen with underclassmen in order to help them navigate through everything Cornell — from what electives to take to the best spots for food on campus. We also attempt to foster connections between our general body constantly, via coffee chat programs and online socials where we often attempt to beat each other at Kahoot. Personally, I’ve been able to make genuine connections through being a part of WICC, whether it was through organizing photo campaigns together in my first semester on board or mentoring freshmen through their high school-to-Cornell transition.
Aside from both resources and community, WICC strives to stimulate dialogue about the gap between women and men when it comes to tech and find ways to close it. We are constantly discussing how we can push and expand this conversation to include other minorities, other groups, and other identities on campus. At our core, we hope to wholeheartedly support women (allies, people of any gender identity, etc) in exploring tech at Cornell and beyond. I, for one, am so grateful to have a hand in even just one woman’s chance at a career path that they love.
~Jonna, computer science
Jonna Chen is a sophomore studying Computer Science in the College of Engineering from both Ithaca, NY and Singapore. On campus, she is Co-President for Women in Computing at Cornell (WICC), has a column on the Cornell Daily Sun titled jonna.write(), and is a Teaching Assistant for CS 4700: Foundations in Artificial Intelligence. In her free time, she loves baking dinner rolls, treating herself to bubble tea, and editing videos.