Fourth-year honours math and computer science student Anneke van der Laan went big for her first technology-centred professional conference. van der Laan attended the prestigious international Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Women in Computing this Fall in Houston, TX on a full scholarship. The event is the world’s largest gathering of women technologists, welcoming over 20,000 participants this year. van der Laan is the first Mount Allison student to attend the conference.
“The entire experience was amazing,” says van der Laan. “I’ve never been in a room with 20,000 women but to be among 20,000 of the world’s top IT professionals was incredible. It was my first major conference experience and I learned so much from it.”
Along with her studies and a long docket of extracurricular activities and commitments, van der Laan also served as the student co-ordinator for CAN-CWiC, the Canadian Celebration of Women in Computing — the premiere Canadian computing conference for women in technology — held in Halifax this fall. She attended along with 14 other Mount Allison CS students and faculty members.
van der Laan says she always had an interest in solving puzzles and technology, but a course in her first year at Mount Allison confirmed her calling.
“I felt naturally drawn to computer science, it was the only course that felt completely new to me in my first year and I really enjoyed it,” she says. “I think there’s generally a lack of understanding around what computer science is and what computer scientists actually do. It is an area that can really fit with any field and it’s important that this be communicated, particularly with youth.”
van der Laan’s father and sister (Sarah, Mount Allison Class of 2014) also work in computer science.
van der Laan is working to break down these misconceptions around computer science in both her school and extracurricular work. As co-President of Mount Allison’s Women in Science society, she helps facilitate a Girls in Science program, which sees volunteers working with girls in Grade 4 at the local elementary school, leading science workshops. She is also a member of the MASU Science Council, the Alcohol Harms Reduction Focus Group, a tutor with the Math Resource Centre, a member of the Improv group, and a teacher’s assistant in calculus and computer science.
“It is easy to see the harmful effects of technology, but I want to use technology for good. I want to contribute to tech in a way that improves our world and our lives,” she says “While I see computer science as a wonderful career path, I think that there is so much more to being a student than what you study. I want to have a balance in my interests and activities while still sharing my passion for computer science with others.”
Building on a summer internship and part-time working opportunity, van der Laan will be working for Fredericton’s Sonraí Security, a cloud security company, following her graduation in May 2019.