Dr. Trilce Estrada, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of New Mexico, was recently named the 2019 recipient of the Emerging Woman Leader in Technical Computing award.

Presented by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the international award aims to recognize women in the middle stage of their careers in the field of high performance and technical computing. The Emerging Woman Leader in Technical Computing designation is a biennial award open to women with a background in technical computing research, education and/or practice.

According to the ACM website, "this international award creates a new career milestone achievement, and also establishes a cohort of role models for students and professionals who are just getting started in our field."

"There are very few awards recognizing individuals in the middle stage of their careers and none aimed specifically at women. These are the years when faculty are working toward promotion and practitioners are moving through middle levels of management, a period which can be especially challenging for women," said the ACM SIGHPC website.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects computer science research jobs will grow 19% by 2026. Yet the National Girls Collaborative project website shows that women currently only earn 18% of computer science bachelor's degrees in the United States.

Estrada explained that part of the reason for the lack of women in the computer science field is a hostile work environment for women.

"Unfortunately, I think every woman in computer science has experienced the sexism that is pervasive in the field… But we are working a lot to change the culture," Estrada said.

In an effort to create a supportive climate, the UNM computer science department has created a club for women in computing.

"Students are welcome," Estrada told the Daily Lobo. "And it’s not just for women: It’s a way for (our female) faculty to interact with all students."

According to Estrada, they provide tea and cookies every Thursday at 3 p.m.

Estrada said although "computer science has a bad stigma of being just a boy's club," she thinks that a lot of assumptions about the field aren’t fair. For example, in computer science research you can work from anywhere you want, she said. And she explained that, as a single mother, this gives her the flexibility to achieve a work/life balance.

Estrada encourages students who are thinking about computer science to "not be afraid." She encouraged students who aren’t sure to take CS 105: Intro to Programming or 108: Computer Science for All, which are introductory classes. She said people from all majors can take these classes and are encouraged to do so.

"Even if you don’t know how to code, you can get it. It’s a skill you develop throughout your whole career. Don’t be intimidated," Estrada said. 

The award will be presented at this year’s Super Computing Conference in Denver, which runs from Nov. 17 to 22. Estrada will be recognized with a $2,000 cash prize, a plaque and travel support to the conference.

Lissa Knudsen is a beat reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @lissaknudsen