Grad Student from UMass Amherst Supports "Systers"

AMHERST, Mass. - Amy McGovern, a graduate student in the computer science department at the University of Massachusetts, runs a computer mailing list, or "list-serv," for women students in computer science, from high-schoolers to doctoral candidates. Currently the list-serv has 250 subscribers around the world, and McGovern aims to increase that number substantially.

Dubbed "Systers-Students," the list was established before McGovern took over. "The list tries to provide a much larger network to support women, and keep them from dropping out of computer science. We provide reassurance, encouragement, and advice in a male-dominated field," she says. Some subscribers are non-traditional students, women in their 40s and 50s who are pursuing degrees in an effort to return to the workforce. Many are working mothers, McGovern notes. "When someone tells them, ''You don''t belong in this field because you''re a woman,'' we say, ''That''s ridiculous. We''re here, and you belong here, too.''"

Much of the information exchanged deals with issues related to applying to college, graduate programs, and various internships. The group also shares news of job postings, and several members have posted their resumes on the list. A related list, Systers, is geared toward women professionals in computer science.

McGovern was a subscriber when the previous list owner gave up the list when she graduated from college. McGovern sees serving as list owner as akin to civic duty: "I feel strongly about the list. When I was an undergraduate, a fellow list member suggested I apply to UMass for graduate school, so it''s played a big role in my life." Administrative duties include approving new subscribers, answering questions that arise on the list, and correcting "glitches."

McGovern''s own interest in computers was ignited when she was six years old, and her parents bought a Commodore 64, the grand-daddy (or perhaps we should say grand-mama) of personal computers. She hopes to work someday in the space program, and she subscribes to several computer mailing lists on that topic, including one for aspiring astronauts. Her interest is in producing the intelligent robots which she says will be needed in coming years, in order to achieve some of the goals of the space program. "The robots need to be smarter. We want to be able to say, ''Go dig this trench and put these pipes in it,''" she said. "My dream is to help produce robots, designed to clean out everything from your arteries to your house."

More information is available at http://www-anw.cs.umass.edu/~amy/systers.html