Grace Hopper Celebration leads students to opportunity

Harrisburg University Interactive Media majors Christina Diffenderfer and Gabrielle Kopera recently returned from a trip to the Grace Hopper Celebration in Florida with their eyes wide open.

For Diffenderfer, a senior, attending the conference in Orlando Oct. 4-6 gave her a sense of “hope.” She said the annual event, billed as the world’s largest gathering of women technologists, helped her understand that career opportunities beyond game design exist for Interactive Media majors.

Kopera echoed similar sentiments. More than 18,000 people attended the Grace Hopper Celebration, and the networking opportunities proved invaluable, said Kopera, who is a sophomore this year.

More than 18,000 people attended the Grace Hopper Celebration, and the networking opportunities proved invaluable, said Kopera, who is a sophomore this year.

“I got valuable networking experience from Grace Hopper. Networking is not a skill that can be taught; it is something that must be practiced,” she said. “Grace Hopper was also great exposure to the professional world. I was able to hear professionals in my field speak about the latest advancements, and learn from them. Grace Hopper also gave me internship opportunities and connections to companies that would want to hire me in the future.”

HU students Gabrielle Kopera, left, and Christina Diffenderfer are pictured at the Grace Hopper Festival.

Keynote speeches delivered by the likes of Melinda Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Dr. Fei-Fei Li, Professor, and Director of the Stanford University AI Lab, who also is a Chief Scientist for Google Cloud AI, inspired both students.

Diffenderfer was equally impressed by the contacts she made at the celebration, saying she met professionals she could soon call colleagues.

“The conference proved to me that there are opportunities beyond game companies that I can take advantage of and get a job with after graduation,” Diffenderfer said. “It provided me with a plethora of network connections that I can contact in the future regarding their companies or potential positions. I can also reference the connections, and the Grace Hopper Conference, when I apply to the companies for jobs. It also provided me with a few friends.”

The celebration was just as enriching for Assistant Social Computing and HCI Professor, Dr. Tamara Peyton, and Dr. Bili Mattes, HU Provost/Chief Academic Officer.

Dr. Peyton said introducing students to the Grace Hopper Celebration was refreshing, especially since the technology industry traditionally has been dominated by men. Issues that prevent women from entering the industry are confronted head-on at the event, she said.

“This is the premier event for women in computing. I would like to see us increase the number of students we take along,” she said. “You learn where industries have changed, and other ways to encourage women to get involved in computing.”

“And attending the celebration opened the students up to ideas about where they can get internships and jobs beyond the Central Pennsylvania area,” Peyton continued. “They were able to realize there are a lot of other women just like them in the world.”

The Grace Hopper Celebration featured more than 700 speakers. And Diffenderfer and Kopera soaked up all that the event offered, Dr. Mattes said.

Both students took full advantage of the conference sessions on technology, professional development, networking, and interviewing opportunities with hundreds of companies, which are searching for interns and new hires, she said.

Dr. Mattes said she and Dr. Peyton also connected with colleagues with similar interests from a wide diversity of universities and colleges.

“This is a community to which our students and faculty should definitely remain connected, and where HU should be well represented,” she said. “I watched our students represent HU incredibly well.”

For more information on the Grace Hopper Celebration, visit the event’s website.

Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Harrisburg University is a private non-profit university offering bachelor and graduate degree programs in science, technology, and math fields/ For more information on the University’s affordable demand-driven undergraduate and graduate programs, call 717.901.5146 or email,