Reading Ashley Conard’s resume, it’s hard not to be impressed by how much she’s accomplished at such a young age. At 24, her list of achievements in computer science is as long as it is varied, with stints at Google, MIT and Xerox. Ashley recently returned from Belgium, where she developed a protein design algorithm utilizing game theory, machine learning, and parallel computing as a Fulbright scholar. This summer, her resume got just a bit longer: Ashley is the new Student Board Member at AnitaB.org.
Ashley first learned about AnitaB.org and its board at the 2010 Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) as a GHC scholar.
“I remember feeling so moved at the sessions that first year,” Ashley says. “I kept thinking, ‘I follow so much of what these women are saying! It’s so powerful and vibrant, and I want to be a part of this community.’”
As a board member, Ashley will be providing her perspective as a student to help shape the strategies and programs AnitaB.org focuses on.
“We’re the people that AnitaB.org is trying to reach,” she explains. “We have a different perspective. We need to attract young talent to computer science – and we know we already have a problem of retention with young women.”
Ashley’s passion for bringing more women into the field of computer science comes through in everything she does. While she pursues a Ph.D. in Computational Biology at Brown University, she mentors four young women pursuing CS and serves as the finance chair for the International Society for Computational Biology Student Council Symposium 2016, a scholarly society for computational biology and bioinformatics researchers. Ashley has also taught CS at middle schools through STARS Computing Corps, national community of regional partnerships with a mission to grow a diverse 21st century technology workforce.
She recalls one memorable conversation in particular from her days teaching middle school. Ashley was helping a young girl with a CS problem when the issue of “coolness” came up.
“I remember her saying that computer science was nerdy and not cool enough, so I asked her, ‘What do you think I do?’”
The girl guessed a few more predictable professions — a writer, perhaps?
“She was amazed when I told her I was a computer scientist and not a writer or something else,” Ashley recalls.
It’s exactly these kinds of stereotypes that Ashley urges young girls to ditch. Her next piece of advice is to keep asking questions and give back.
“Everyone can be in CS and people from every field can be involved,” she says. “It’s also important to help others. Put on a workshop about scholarships when you get back from GHC. Get the word out there. When you’ve gotten somewhere great, tell other people about it.”