HAZLETON, Pa. – Cassidy Lugo couldn’t bring herself to look. It was the day the junior information and sciences technology (IST) student from Hazleton was supposed to learn whether she had earned a scholarship as a research scholar to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration, one of the largest conferences in the world for women in computing.
“The day the emails went out (announcing the winners) I was so afraid, I didn’t check until the next day,” Lugo recalled.
As it turned out, Lugo didn’t have anything to be nervous about.
"When I found out I won, I was jumping up and down, I was so excited,” she said.
The conference, which draws about 20,000 women each year, will allow Lugo to share experiences with students, educators, mentors and employers in the field of computing from all over the globe.
This marks back-to-back years a Penn State Hazleton student earned the scholarship. Last year, Hima Patel received the award and attended the conference in Orlando, Florida.
Despite the conference shifting to a virtual format this year due to the pandemic, Lugo still expects to advance her networking skills and absorb a wealth of knowledge.
In fact, she’s already started.
Lugo has taken advantage of several networking opportunities and virtual workshops hosted by the organization throughout the summer, ranging from resume building and professional development to public speaking. She plans to continue until the conference officially begins on Sept. 29.
It is that drive to learn that prompted Assistant Professor of Information Sciences and Technology Nargess Tahmasbi to encourage Lugo to pursue the scholarship.
“She always pushed it during class. She always reminded us the deadline to apply was days away and when I showed interest, she kept after me about it,” Lugo said, adding that Tahmasbi also vouched for her in a letter of recommendation for the scholarship.
Tahmasbi attended the Grace Hopper Celebration in 2018 and was also integral in helping Patel secure the award the following year.
The GHC Research Scholars program is designed to increase the number of undergraduate women with an interest in computing research.
Lugo said she understands the need for such a program. She is often one of the only women in her IST classes, she said. She added that she believes being in a program made up mostly of men can have its share of challenges, but at the end of the day everyone looks out for one another.
“They test me,” she jokingly said of some of the men in her IST classes. “But it’s in a way that they want to encourage me to grow. It’s a community where people are very caring.”
Lugo also credits the faculty and staff at Penn State Hazleton for urging her to attend women in STEM events on campus, which she said convinced her to change her major during her freshman year from business to IST.
“It basically showed me Penn State really drives us to be successful,” Lugo said. “They treat us so well and they want us to excel.”