By Alyssia Jovellanos
On October 19, 2016, I stood in the wings of the stage of Houston’s Toyota Center at the world’s largest gathering of women technologists: the Anita Borg Institute’s annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. Nothing could have prepared me for this moment. There I was, about to follow a keynote speech from Ginni Rometty, IBM’s CEO, in front of an audience of more than 15,000 people.
A voice over the loudspeaker said, “Please welcome to the stage, our 2016 Student of Vision award winner, Alyssia Jovellanos.” I took a deep breath. It was time.
My journey to that stage began just about two years ago. I was at home visiting my brother’s new girlfriend, Aleli Evangelista. She was a recent Computer Science graduate, and we were chatting about career options. Though I’d never studied any computer science at all, by the end of our discussion, a gut feeling directed me to apply at the last minute to a Computer Science program at McMaster University, one of Canada’s top engineering schools.
Since then, I’ve dreamed of changing the world through software, and I’m pursuing that dream. From organizing DeltaHacks, Canada’s largest student-run hackathon for change, to developing tools to teach thousands of kids about code and computer science through MacCASOutreach, I love the world in which I’ve immersed myself.
Applying for and winning the Student of Vision award has changed my life. In addition to providing reference letters, answers to essay questions as well as the submission of CVs and resumes, the thing that excited me most about the application was creating an original video. I used the Anita Borg Institute’s vision statement — “We envision a future where the people who imagine and build technology mirror the people and societies they build it for” — as the backbone of what the video should reflect, and used the opportunity to communicate my own visions for the future as well as what I’ve done to advance women in tech.
Before winning the Student of Vision Award, I had never attended the Grace Hopper Celebration. During those immersive three days I constantly felt an enormous sense of pride. Being surrounded by 15000 amazing women technologists from around the world was an unforgettable experience, and it confirmed for me I truly belonged in computing.
While on the GHC stage, I couldn’t help but reflect on how far I’ve come. However, there was one person I had to credit in front of everyone: Aleli. She inspired me to enter the computer science field in the first place! As I said her name, the cameras revealed her in the audience, and she stood up waving. Cheers echoed throughout the stadium.
“Look around you,” I said to the crowd. “There is something so beautiful about being surrounded by a myriad of supportive people and opening your mind to them. Sometimes we get so stuck in our own thoughts that we don’t see our own unique path until someone comes along with their own experiences to help us see ourselves in a new way. Things become more expansive when you let people into your life.
“So today, I encourage you to meet someone you’ve never met before. Find a mentor, and become one yourself. Because when we do this, we create, learn, and progress together. When we do this, we create this multiplier effect of perpetuating goodness and advancement. And when we do this, our ideas blossom, our dreams grow, and ultimately our world expands beyond what we ever imagined.”
I addressed the final two words of my speech directly to Aleli: “Thank you.”
Interested in applying for this year’s Student of Vision ABIE Award?