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WHPC event highlights the importance of women in STEM

  • Science Highlights

Purdue’s Women in High-Performance Computing (WHPC) group recently hosted a presentation surrounding Rebecca Sharples’s Doctor of Education (Ed.D) dissertation, which was inspired by the remarkable life journey of Suzanna Gardner, the Senior Research Operations Administrator of Outreach and Engagement for the Anvil supercomputer at the Rosen Center for Advanced Computing (RCAC).

On April 26th, Suzanna Gardner Image descriptionand Rebecca Sharples gave a dual presentation at RCAC’s Envision Center. Food was provided for the event, and after filling their plates, the attendees settled in to listen to the women speak. During the presentation, the two discussed Gardner’s early encounters with the entrenched biases of a society steeped in misogyny, how her path led to the pair becoming friends, and how this culminated in Sharples’ decision to use Gardner’s life story as a platform for her dissertation. The pair then spoke about some of the specific research that went into Sharples’ dissertation, namely the gross inequality women face, not only in this country, but throughout the world. The statistics surrounding this topic tied into the unifying theme of the presentation: The Importance of Women in STEM. Five key reasons that highlight why having women in STEM is important were given, all supported by mounds of evidence:

  1. Reduce the gender pay gap.
  2. Reduce the gender poverty gap.
  3. Bring innovation and new skillsets into STEM from an untapped population.
  4. Change the narrative/break the cycle.
  5. “I can be what I can see.”

Later in the presentation, Gardner and Sharples discussed the barriers and challenges that women face, specifically when it comes to getting more women in STEM. The day then concluded with a positive and thought-provoking Q and A session. If you weren’t able to make it in person, you may watch the full presentation here:

Suzanna Gardner

Suzanna Gardner’s life journey Image descriptioncan be succinctly described as this—breaking barriers and championing female empowerment. Growing up in the 80s and 90s in Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, Gardner was raised in a society that spurned female achievement. Even so, she was inspired heavily by her mother, a highly successful entrepreneur in her own right, and decided to forge her own path, regardless of the societal pressures. At an early age, Gardner’s father realized she had a penchant for martial arts and enrolled her in judo. Fast-forward a few years, Gardner not only achieved a 3rd Degree Black Belt, but also became the first woman from Uzbekistan to earn a medal at the 1999 Asian Judo Championship. Participating in judo opened up doors internationally for Gardner, and she was dedicated to taking full advantage of the opportunities she earned through her success in the sport. Gardner eventually moved to the U.S., where she earned her M.A. in International Affairs and Leadership from Arizona State University. She also owned a Strength and Conditioning gym before becoming a Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of the Ozarks. Gardner now happily works at RCAC as the Senior Research Operations Administrator of Outreach and Engagement for the Anvil supercomputer. Most of her life journey has had her operating within predominantly male-dominated environments, but despite this adversity, she has still been tremendously successful. And throughout this journey, she has made it a point to empower individuals and help others to surpass gender barriers.

Rebecca Sharples

Dr. Rebecca Sharples first met Image descriptionSuzanna Gardner in a professional context—Sharples wanted Gardner to be her coach. After some deliberation, Gardner agreed to train Sharples, and the two set out on a path that would forever change their lives. Over time, the two became best friends, and Sharples naturally learned more about Gardner’s life experiences. She found Gardner’s journey to be not only fascinating, but empowering. So when the time came to choose her dissertation topic, Sharples had no doubts—she would use her friend’s story to help educate others on the biases women face and to empower and encourage women to fight for equality and achieve success.

As a woman in STEM, Dr. Sharples has also been very successful in a male-dominated environment. In 2001, she earned her bachelor's degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Computer Information Systems. She then earned her master's degree in Information Systems in 2003 and her doctorate in Education with a concentration in Learning and Organizational Change in 2023. Dr. Sharples’s experience ranges from technical IT to process improvement and auditing of financial systems to management in business, IT, and education. She also owned a small glass art business for 3.5 years while her children were young, during which time she took a break from the corporate world to be home. Dr. Sharples’ most recent role was at Purdue University in The Data Mine. She served as the Managing Director of Academic Programs and Outreach for more than two years before she left to pursue goals in her personal life, such as spending more time with her husband of 14 years and their 3 kids, coaching and training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, her art, and working on home renovation projects.

Purdue Women in High-Performance Computing Program

Purdue Women in HPC (WHPC) is part of a broader engagement initiative by the Rosen Center for Advanced Computing (RCAC) and is led by women staffers affiliated with RCAC. WHPC is a diverse community encompassing undergraduate, graduate, staff, and faculty men and women who are interested in exposing women to high-performance computing and encouraging their pursuit of research and careers in HPC and other technology fields.

Purdue WHPC organizes a range of activities, including a scholarship program that supports travel for women students to industry conferences, regular meetings to discuss technical HPC-related issues of interest, opportunities to network with the WHPC community, a mentorship program, workshops, and exposure to external resources and opportunities.

To view Dr. Sharples’s dissertation, please visit here: A Young Woman of Color’s Transnational Lived Experiences Through an Intersectional Feminist Lens: A Qualitative Narrative Inquiry1

If you would like to attend and/or are interested in future participation in Purdue WHPC events, please contact us at You may also subscribe to our WHPC List Serve!

  1. Sharples, R. L. (2023). A Young Woman of Color’s Transnational Lived Experiences Through an Intersectional Feminist Lens: A Qualitative Narrative Inquiry (Doctoral dissertation, Baylor University).
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Written by: Jonathan Poole,

Originally posted: