An Insider’s Look at Student Board Membership

Two student members serve on the Anita Borg Institute (ABI) Board of Trustees, helping us connect, inspire, and guide women in technology. These young leaders provide much-needed perspective, gain valuable nonprofit experience, and work closely with distinguished technology professionals from industry and academia.

To get an inside look, we spoke with Ashley Conard, one of our current student board members, who’s a Ph.D. candidate in computational biology at Brown University.

How did you get involved as a student board member?

At the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) in 2010, I got to see Telle talk. It was so inspiring, and I thought “I want to help!” But I didn’t really have any idea how to do that.

I went back to DePauw [University, where Ashley earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and computer science] and got involved in mentoring other students. I started talking to professors about putting on Days of Science at middle and high schools in the local community. I was able to mentor quite a few people and talk to many others about what I had learned at my first GHC.

Then I went to Carnegie Mellon for the OurCS conference. I met Sarah Loos, and I was telling her how I felt an obligation to help others who might not understand the versatility of computer science. Sarah said, “I’m on the board of trustees for ABI,” and my eyes lit up! I talked to her about what board membership entailed, and she encouraged me to apply. The work I had done previously helping other students find their passion for computer science helped make me a good candidate.

What have you gained from your time on the board?

You always hear the success stories. But being a part of the ABI board has shown me that everyone goes through rough patches, too. I was able to see that there are people on the board who were also afraid when they give presentations, or were unable to meet a key deadline, or had disappointed themselves. Even people in the best positions, the most-idolized people, have their own challenges.

I really look up to the people on the board. I’ve had the chance to ask them hard questions about what they do during times of struggle — how they handle a bad project, or cope with immense amounts of stress. Tech fields are challenging, so being able to hear from experienced board members is invaluable.

What would you tell a friend who’s interested in being a student board member?

The first thing is to be open to asking questions without being nervous. Sitting around the table with CTOs and CEOs of massive companies, or professors from top universities, can be intimidating. And we’ll talk about different topics that might be confusing at first, like the nuts and bolts of the financials. So it comes down to really being able to listen and ask questions.

You have a great chance to learn all about what the ABI does. You learn what GHC is all about, what BRAID is, what Systers does, why ABI.Local was formed. You get to immerse yourself in all the nooks and crannies. You’ll get to critically assess the ABI programs and products. And once you find something you want to work on, you have the opportunity to work with ABI staff to make that a reality.

As a board member, you represent the student body. And GHC is a great opportunity to engage with students and ask them questions: Have you been able to talk to academic institutions? Have you had an interview? Did you attend this talk? And then you can bring that info back to the board. You get to represent the people in your age group. That perspective is truly yours.


Interested in becoming a Student Board Member, or nominating someone else? We’re accepting Student Board Member applications through May 19.