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25 years of change in computer science

March 7, 2018
two women smiling for a photo, one wears a crown and a sash that reads RETIREDMarty Guenther, left, shares a laugh at her retirement party with Department of Computer Science chair Sandhya Dwarkadas. Guenther had worked in the department since its founding, creating and supporting several programs to increase the enrollment of women in computer scienc and connect students to an increasingly global tech community. (University of Rochester photo / Bob Marcotte)

The study of computer science has undergone sweeping change in the past couple of decades, right along with the technology itself. And Marty Guenther, who recently retired as undergraduate coordinator in the computer science department, has been both witness to that and a key participant during her 25 years at the University.

She’s watched the department’s undergraduate enrollment increase dramatically—from an initial graduating class of fewer than 10 in 1999 to more than 100 in a class now.

And she’s been a key player in helping to make that enrollment—initially almost entirely male—include more women.

Even when there were only a handful of women students in the department, Guenther brought them together in events designed to create cohesion, notes department chair Sandhya Dwarkadas.

Guenther also helped create Girl Power: A Girl’s Introduction to Computer Science, which was offered as a Rochester Scholars summer course for high school students.

“When I was ready to quit, Marty reached out and showed the path forward. She knew us better than we knew ourselves at times.”

Now, participation in the BRAID initiative  has helped the department build its female enrollment. Last year, its percentage of graduating females was double the national average and it now has a thriving WIC (Women in Computing) group. BRAID funding enables several female students to attend the national Grace Hopper Conference for women in computing. For each of the last three years, Guenther has accompanied them, setting up opportunities for them to network with Rochester computer science alumni, many of whom have launched their own companies.

Guenther has helped computer science students connect with a global tech community. She went to Budapest, Hungary, for example, to help create a study abroad opportunity for undergraduates studying computer science at the Aquincum Institute of Technology. And she accompanied a group of primarily computer science majors on a Gwen Greene Center for Career Education and Connections “road trip” to Silicon Valley to visit a range of companies, from Google, Facebook, and Twitter, to alumni startups.

Guenther, who retired in December, enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with the computer science department. Before joining the University, Guenther co-owned a hardware store with her husband.

“It’s very traditional and conservative being in the hardware business,” she says. “The diversity of students and faculty in computer science, and their willingness to share their life stories and customs have given me a world view. We have compared our religions and found more commonalities than differences.”

At home she has presents from China, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Nepal, India, France, Mexico, Pakistan, and Spain, “all given to me by caring students and faculty,” Guenther says.

Guenther’s contributions were recognized with the Hajim School outstanding staff award in 2010.

On a day-to-day basis, faculty and students alike relied on her to provide detailed information, as well as a broader perspective, on the undergraduate program—and to lend much-needed advice and support.

“When I was ready to quit, Marty reached out and showed the path forward,” recalls Nawrose Nur ’03. “She knew us better than we knew ourselves at times.”

Dwarkadas says, “Ever since I joined the department, every day when I came in, the first face I saw would be Marty’s – the first hello, the first big smile. I’m really, really missing that.”

Guenther offered some farewell advice to her successor, Brynn Wilkins:

“Remind students that their behavior has consequences. Help them reach their full potential. Get them graduated and on their way. And keep track of them wherever they land.”


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Category: Student Life