Meet the Insiders who won our 2018 Grace Hopper Award

Grace Hopper Contest winners collage

We’re thrilled to be sending ten women to the Grace Hopper Celebration, the largest gathering of women technologists in the world. Thank you to the hundreds of women who applied and to the ten extraordinary women who won our Grace Hopper Award and will travel to Microsoft’s headquarters for mentoring.

As majors in computer science and related fields, the winners all have big plans for the future—for their careers and for transforming the technology industry. Chineye Emeghara, a computer science student at the The University of Texas at Austin, wants to take special effects in film to the next level. Daniela Alves Ridel, a computer science student at University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, is working with AI to improve pedestrian and autonomous vehicle safety. And Veronica Lewis, an IT and assistive technology student at George Mason University, sees a huge potential for making technology more accessible for people of all abilities.

All of our winners have a deep passion for programming and problem solving. Whether they had a mind-blowing experience at an early age, or they stumbled onto coding later in college, all of the women were excited to share their geeky love of computer science.

“Using code, you can bring certain problems to light, educate others through data analysis, and refine inaccurate statements,” said Elizabeth Lin, a student at the University of Washington Seattle studying computer science. “Code can be a mechanism to educate communities and spread transparent information. It can also be used to solve problems in daily life, like powering a self-driving car or transferring patient data in hospitals.”

Many of the winners hope to make a positive impact and help others in their careers. Pooja Nagpal, a junior studying electrical engineering at UC Berkeley, sees technology as an equalizing force with the power to tackle poverty.

Diana Carolina Torres Viasus, who just got her Bachelor’s degree in systems engineering in Columbia, said, “I would like to help and inspire many people to live a dignified life and fulfill their dreams, and to be able to contribute to achieving specific research and innovation projects that benefit the whole world.”

“My dream job would be working with individuals who have a traumatic brain injury or a neurodegenerative disease,” said Rebecca Houston, a senior studying communicative disorders and deaf education at Utah State University. She hopes to create affordable technologies that help people with ALS get better access to tools that can help them communicate.

Shannen Bravo-Brown, a senior at Florida State University majoring in computer science, also wants to transform the field of medicine with the power of tech. “I look forward to creating quantum algorithms that will have a profound impact on health care,” she said. “I want to use the power of quantum computing to find cures to diseases that modern computers have not been able to discover.”

The winners have all confronted adversity, including being told that they should give up on their dreams, being a first generation college student, and extremely challenging coursework.

“Studying computer science has presented me with hurdles that I never thought I would face,” said Mónica Ceisel, a senior studying computer science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The academics are challenging, and the culture is competitive, so a lot of hostility can be generated.”

“The best way to overcome these obstacles has been to surround myself with individuals who I admire, who support my goals, and who have an abundance of experience,” she said. “When I’m surrounded by people I admire, I’m more motivated to work and utilize my grit. When I’m surrounded by people who support my goals, my happiness, positivity, and productivity increase. When I’m surrounded by mentors who have an abundance of experience, I can learn from their mistakes and take inspiration from their successes.”

As women, they’ve often felt pressure to excel above and beyond and to never make mistakes to be taken seriously by their peers. To aspiring women technologists, Cassandra Oduola, a student getting her PhD in computer engineering at Texas A&M University, gave this advice. “Even experienced people make mistakes. Have a support group, and ask questions, especially when you’re on the job,” she said. “It’s not weakness. It’s smart, and it’s how you learn.”

Elizabeth’s advice for women interested in tech is to be your confident self. “No matter what adversity and challenges you have to confront, never suppress your ability to shine. Put in the extra effort to let people know about the work you have done,” she said. “Be confident about yourself and never discount your work, because you are valuable, and you can do it.”