The Women’s Resource Center (WRC) has awarded Baker College student Amanda Cruess a 2006 Impact Award for supporting and promoting the contributions of women in computing. Through her involvement in CSters, Rice’s Women in Computer Science Group, Cruess, a junior majoring in Computer Science, serves as a role model for other young women attracted to computer-related fields.
Cruess is currently co-president of CSters, a group that aims to provide networking, support, and resources to undergraduate women interested in computer science and electrical and computer engineering. With Hanszen College student Emily Fortuna, her co-president, Cruess has provided direction to the group, which invites speakers from inside and outside the university to speak to members on career options, challenges for women in industry, and graduate programs in computer science and engineering.
Noah Harding Professor of Computer Science and Bioengineering Lydia Kavraki, who nominated Cruess for the Impact Award, said, "I nominated Amanda for two reasons. One is that she is very active in the [CSters] club at Rice. I am the faculty advisor for that club. She has served as an officer of that club for many years. She steps in and takes initiative when nobody else volunteers. She is determined and can get things done. She has managed to transmit her enthusiasm to other women, too."
"The second reason is that Amanda is participating in all these activities while maintaining a stellar academic record and participating in research activities in my group. Her contributions to our on-going project that targets the automated functional annotation of proteins are very significant and she is the co-author of a recently submitted article. She is outstanding," said Kavraki.
Cruess first became involved in CSters in 2004, her sophomore year in college. That year, she took a trip to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Chicago with her fellow CSters members. The celebration is an annual event designed to bring women in computing, whether undergraduates, graduate students or consummate career women, together to share their current research and career interests. "It was the Grace Hopper conference that really inspired me to get more involved with CSters," said Cruess, who subsequently ran and was elected co-president of CSters. "It was incredible to see all of these women there, all doing exciting things in the field of computer science."
Cruess explained that as a woman beginning her studies in a field where females are underrepresented, it was important for her to have role models. In CSters, she looked up to the junior and senior women graduating with CS degrees. In class, she admired Kavraki’s work. Cruess won an award from the Computer Research Association's Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W) last summer to perform research with Kavraki’s Physical and Biological Computing Group.
But it was when Cruess volunteered for an outreach program called Expanding Your Horizons in Science and Mathematics (EYH) that she really felt she had served as a role model for other young women. Cruess has led educational sessions for middle school students at the past two EYH conferences in Houston. The annual conference brings local middle school girls together for sessions in math and science to spark their interest in the subjects.
In 2005, Cruess and CSters member Christy Beatty led a session called "College and Computing," showing the middle school girls games that they had coded and created in their college computing courses. The girls first played the games, and then they learned how to change the back-end code to alter the programs. In ‘hangman,’ for example, they learned to code their own words into the game and see the words appear on the screen as front-end users. Cruess described her excitement when, at the end of the day, two girls asked Cruess and Beatty to pose in a photograph with them.
"I was really proud to think the girls saw me as a role model," Cruess said. "And I hope we were able to make them really think about careers they may not have thought about beforehand."
The WRC honors a select group of faculty and staff members, graduate and undergraduate students each year with Impact Awards. The awards are given to individuals that make a positive impact on and beyond campus by bringing women’s issues to light and by empowering other women.
The Impact Award was presented to Cruess at a dinner hosted by the WRC on April 21st. She was honored along with fellow award winners: Janet Braam, professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology; Russell Barnes, director of the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity; Glynda Cumby, retired Hanszen College coordinator; Amber Raley, a graduate student in Psychology; Russell Schafer, a Baker College student, and Althea Tupper, a Hanszen College student.
– Katherine Manuel
May 2, 2006