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W&L Student Presents Research at Computing Conference for Women

When you go on-line to buy something, you concentrate on the purchase and not on the Web applications that have to be running correctly in order for you to make that purchase successfully.

But someone has to make sure all these applications are running correctly, and Web testers must go through these pages one at a time to be sure they are all working properly. Sara Sprenkle, assistant professor of computer science at Washington and Lee University, says the the process is both tedious and prone to error since each page contains so much code that has to be checked. “The testers are going to miss something,” said Sprenkle.

For the last four years, Sprenkle has been developing tools that can automate the process of checking that these applications are working correctly. She has already published papers on her research but expects the work won’t be completed for at least another year or more.

Camille Cobb and Carrie Hopkins, both sophomores at W&L participated in Sprenkle’s research this summer at her alma mater,the University of Delaware. Cobb will present their summer research during a poster session at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, held in Tucson, Ariz., Sept. 30 to Oct. 3.

This ties into Sprenkle’s other mission-promoting women in computer science.

Sprenkle pointed out that the trend of women in computer science is actually going backward. “Fewer than 20 percent of computer science degrees are earned by women today,” she said. “In the 1980s it was closer to 35 percent.

“Three women students graduated in computer science from W&L in 2009. But right now we have only one woman majoring in computer science, and she’s a junior. We don’t have any in the senior class.”
Cobb plans to change that when she declares her major in computer science.

“I decided this summer that I was going to be a computer science major, plus either physics or physics engineering. I had already taken one computer science class at W&L, and I had thought about it, but the summer research tipped the balance for me. I was mostly working with other women, which is unusual, and it was great,” she said.

When Cobb presents her research at the conference, she will be joining between 1,000 and 1,400 other women.
“The purpose of the conference is to gather women in computing together, to help them feel less isolated and to give them the resources they need to succeed in computing,” said Sprenkle.

Cobb is funded to attend the conference by the Computing Research Association’s Distributed Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.

For more information on the conference go to http://gracehopper.org/2009/