Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Foundry Program at Carleton - Helping Take Innovative Ideas to the Next Level

I’m currently working as an intern for the Foundry Program at Carleton, its an amazing opportunity for students and since I had never heard of it before this semester I wanted to let everyone else in on it.

The Foundry Program at Carleton University helps students bring innovative ideas to market and the community. Students, recent graduates and staff members can receive $10 000+ grants to help build prototypes, hire a consultant, develop a patent or whatever else they need to continue working towards their goals of either starting their own business or developing their project until it can be sold to a company already established in the Industry. But the foundry program is a lot more than a start up funding program. Two teams of interns work with students from the time they apply, until they receive the money and even afterwards to give them every chance to succeed.

Students, recent graduates and staff members can receive
$10 000+ grants to help build prototypes, hire a consultant,
develop a patent or whatever else they need

The Innovation Interns look for possible flaws or blank spots in the student’s logic then with the student and various advisors in residence to make sure those flaws are resolved. They also help do the background research of what competition or roadblocks the projects might face when it goes to market, as well as for additional opportunities. These interns will poke and pry at an idea to make sure that there are no surprises later on. But They aren't just doing this because it is a job and pays the bills, All of the foundry interns are passionate about the program and want to help these projects to succeed. We're part of the Foundry program because it gives us an opportunity to see what other students are passionate about and get to help a project develop into a business and with a bit of luck not only succeed but become the next big thing (with the inventors' permission next week I'll be posting a blog about one of our program participants that has made international news over the past year). The other team of interns work to get the participants stories to the public, students put a lot of time, heart and soul into these projects and there are some pretty neat stories about how some of the ideas came about.

You don't have to have the next big technologically
revolutionary idea to apply.

The awesome thing about the Foundry is, you don't have to have the next big technologically revolutionary idea to apply. You also don't need a business plan. All you need is a project or idea that you are passionate about. The Foundry Program Director, Luc Lalande is fond of saying you need "an idea that's really real". Ten thousand dollars is a lot of money, so you obviously can't go 'I'm a bit short on rent this month I'll apply to the foundry with whatever I dreamt up in class this week". You need to have put a good amount of thought into what you want to do with your project, what your goal is, how you might achieve it or how the foundry could help you achieve it and have put enough work into it to show you're serious.

The Foundry interns start working on a project when a student decides to apply for the grant. We'll help you develop your business plan and even work on a proposal until the team believes it will be selected for funding. We can help develop a business plan if that's what the student needs or help them attain a patent. For projects in the earlier stages the teams can help develop prototypes or marketable products through their own research or by calling on the Foundry programs network to find someone with the required expertise to work with the student as a mentor.

Students are never required to follow the suggestions given them by the interns and the Foundry Program maintains applicant’s confidentiality and never attaches hidden strings or legalities. At the same time we will not just give a student false hopes if we do come across a fatal flaw or if the project is not right for the program, in these cases the student still leaves having gained some expertise and always has the opportunity to apply again.

All you need is a project or idea that you are passionate about.

If you haven't guessed being an intern is also awesome job and an excellent way to get introduced to the Ottawa Tech and Entrepreneurial Communities. Students from any level or Science, Business and Engineering are selected for Innovation Interns, and students from journalism, media, and communication related fields are selected for Communication Internships.

Find out more at the Foundry Program Wiki:

Friday, January 30, 2009

Schooling Girls on Real-Life Engineering

This post was sent to the Butler University Computer Science and Software Engineering "women-in-it announcement" list server

Schooling Girls on Real-Life Engineering

Wielding screwdrivers and shears, a crew of Oakland middle-school girls was doing some serious damage to a pair of hapless computers. The girls pried open a PC tower and a laptop and eagerly began extracting such components as the memory, hard drive and power supply. “This is awesome,” said Jessica Nguyen, a sixth grader at Montera Middle School. “It’s so much fun to take things apart!”

That kind of mayhem—and enthusiastic response to it—was exactly what Cal graduates Christy Hurlburt (B.S. ’00 EECS), Judy Lau (B.S. ’00 EECS) and Tao Ye (M.S. ’97 EECS) had in mind.

The three alumnae were visiting Montera on a late November afternoon as volunteer mentors for Techbridge, an Oakland-based program that introduces girls in grades 5 through 12 to technology, science and engineering with a variety of after-school and summer activities. Launched by Chabot Space & Science Center in 2000, Techbridge encourages girls to explore fields where women have traditionally been underrepresented.

“When I was in middle school, I don’t think I knew what an electrical engineer or a computer scientist was,” said Ye, who, like her colleagues, was a first-time Techbridge participant. A research scientist at Burlingame-based Sprint ATL, where she focuses on network measurement and security, Ye earned her M.S. at UC Berkeley and is now a doctoral student at the University of Melbourne. “For me, getting women involved in engineering has been sort of a passion,” she said.

During their two-hour visit with the 22 girls, the Berkeley graduates described the personal journeys that led them to study engineering and venture into technology careers. “I found myself really interested in science and math,” said Lau, who came to the United States from Hong Kong when she was 13. Ye, a native of China, said that, for her, science and math “explained how the physical world worked in a logical way.” Hurlburt, a former Cal lacrosse player who grew up in Colorado, told the girls, “There are so many ways you can use your technology or science background.” As a service manager for Medtronic, Hurlburt supervises a team that helps implant and check pacemakers, defibrillators and other cardiac devices.

Hoping to expose the girls to the actual work of an engineer, the volunteers led a series of hands-on activities. “You’ll get to rip open a computer and see its guts,” promised Hurlburt.

The resulting “computer dissection” exercise was a hit with the middle-schoolers. “I wanted the girls to know what is inside a computer and not feel intimidated by it,” said Lau, a hardware engineer who designs electronic testing products for LeCroy Corporation.

Despite their obvious familiarity with computers, few of the students had ever opened one up to poke around inside. (“I’d get in so much trouble,” confided one sixth grader.) As seventh grader Isabella Lew leaned over the PC tower to loosen a tight screw, she reflected on the value of such an exercise. “If it’s working, it’s fine,” she observed. “But if it’s not working, you might have an idea of why it’s not.”

The Techbridge students also played a hopscotch-like game that demonstrated how a sorting network operates and later acted out the roles of “routers” and “packets” to learn how information is sent on the Internet.

Techbridge has worked with a total of 2,500 girls in 30 East Bay schools. The program, which receives funding from the National Science Foundation and private and corporate foundations, is offered to interested girls at the participating schools, and since the start of a partnership with Berkeley in 2005, nearly 70 engineering graduates and current students have become volunteers. “We have volunteers who come back year after year,” says Linda Kekelis, Techbridge’s project director. “We definitely realize that role models are good for girls.”

And vice versa. Hurlburt, Lau and Ye said they all plan to continue working with Techbridge. Amazed by the energy in the classroom as the girls pulled the computers apart, Lau said, “It turned out to be the best volunteer experience I’ve ever had.”

Friday, January 23, 2009

Report Reveals That Girls Have the Edge in New Technologies

I received this message via the Butler University Computer Science and Software Engineering "women-in-it announcement" list server.

New Report Reveals That Girls Have the Edge in New Technologies
University of Hertfordshire (01/20/09) Murphy, Helene

More girls are using computers at home than boys, and mothers are usually assisting their children with the technology, according to the new Learning in the Family report. In the survey of thousands of children aged six to 14, 94 percent of the girls said that they used a computer or laptop compared with only 88 percent of the boys. Fifty percent of children chose their mothers to help them use the computer, compared with 22 percent who chose their fathers. "Overall, mothers are more likely to engage with their children using new technologies especially when it comes to formal learning or research," says University of Hertfordshire professor and study co-author Karen Pine. Robert Hart of Intuitive Media Research Services, which commissioned the report, adds that "fathers join in to a lesser extent but encourage children with the fun aspects and help them with their hobbies." The study also found that 40 percent of children want their parents to help them more with computers.

Dr.Runte's talk still lingers in my head (video now available on YouTube)

As some of you may remember, on November 26th, 2008, Dr. Runte, the first female president of Carleton University, gave a talk on "Inspiring Women". If you missed it, I have great news! You can now watch it online.

Dr.Runte made some very interesting points about women in science and engineering in this presentation. She first mentioned that most women in science/engineering had a role model who encouraged them to study in those fields, such as their mom, grandmother, or a famous woman like Marie Curie. This indicates that we need to recognize accomplished women more in order to encourage young females to go into these fields. She told us of some amazing women that we haven't even heard of.

I also learned that women tend to criticize each other more than support each other. Now this was a good point. I never noticed it before and it disappointed me a lot. As an example, Dr.Runte mentioned that many women focused on criticizing Hilary Clinton, such as her blue pants, instead of doing their best to support her in her endeavors to be the first female president. I myself was so happy that she was running and admired her for it. Which reminds me of something I learned in a business class I took (Organizational Behavior). I learned that women in high position jobs are judged more than men, even by other women. So the way I see it, women need to stop being jealous of each other, stop judging each other, and start supporting each other. And of course we need the support of men too.

Dr.Runte also tells us stories about her past such as how she fought for fair pay (which is a great story by the way!). She did a great job and every single person in the audience walked away inspired. And as you can see, that inspiration still lingers in me.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Do girls write better documentation?

Sometimes it's amazing to me what sort of stereotypes I come up against. One that's always amused me from my male colleagues and friends is "Oh, you're a girl, you'll be better at writing documentation than I will."

As it happens, I often am better at writing documentation than my male colleagues. But it's not because of some inherent sex-linked language abilities as they claim, it's because I've worked hard at learning ways to communicate information to people. And I practice those skills every chance I get! (I even do documentation for Mailman, one of the most popular mailing list managers, in my spare time.)

As a graduate student, my communication skills are one of my biggest assets: your research won't get much traction if you can't communicate your ideas to people both in the papers you write and in your conference presentations, and it's really hard to work as a teaching assistant if you have poor communication skills. Even as an undergraduate, you're still trying to communicate ideas through your assignments and exams are basically you trying to communicate to the prof that you've understood the course material!

For a long time, I tried to avoid doing documentation much, because I didn't want to get stuck in a "girl-track" and have people assume that I couldn't code just because I was good at writing about it. It's an embarrassingly common myth, probably perpetuated by people who don't want to write, that Real Coders aren't good at documentation because their brains are too busy writing Real Code.

Carla Schroder puts the kibosh on this ridiculous notion with a series of 3 articles: Tips For Documentation Writers (This Means You Too, Ace Coders), More Tips For Documentation Writers (You Too, Ace Coders), Yet More Tips For Documentation Writers (Writing For Money!). She's talking about documentation for open source software, but a lot of the tips are useful to any student who needs to communicate ideas.

She starts with explaining why good documentation is important, and why even the most hardcore of software developers should care about explaining things well, then eases into some fairly simple suggestions to help everyone write better documentation. A lot of these tips can help you if you're writing papers. Here's some she explains that I think are probably helpful to everyone:

  1. Don't assume your reader already knows everything
  2. Use normal English, or whatever language you use
  3. Don't worry about over-explaining! This is rarely a problem
  4. Use examples, screenshots, diagrams to help explain
  5. Spelling, grammar, formatting and deadlines are all important.

What I love about her tips are that they're all things anyone can learn to do: Thinking from the point of view of your reader may not be something that comes naturally to you, but you can always find a friend in another field and ask them to read your draft and see what they need explained. Your language skills don't have to be amazing -- if you can explain it verbally to your friends or colleagues, you can write documentation. No one expects literary greatness out of a howto or your latest assignment. And so on. So don't let your male colleagues wiggle out of documentation duty or writing their part of the group project: you can just point out that it's much easier than they think.

Do I still worry about being stuck writing things because I'm the girl on the team? Sure. But if I don't want to do it, it's usually as simple as saying no. And if I do want to do it, I also don't let a little fear of stereotyping prevent me from doing something I'm good at!

Besides, if I feel like breaking stereotypes, I can always be an ace coder who also writes decent docs. I hear those are even more hard to come by than women in science and engineering. ;)

Women in Leadership

I noticed some posters up for the Women in Leadership Foundation Carleton Club. I don't know much about this group except what's on the WIL Carleton website but this sounds like something that might be of interest to CU-WISE members.

Their meeting is at

Jan 20
4124 ME

And they ask that you RSVP to

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Education in domestic abuse should be as common as education in STDs... or drinking & driving

I would like to provide a little bit of feedback about yesterday's presentation titled: "Domestic Abuse: What every woman should know" by Bailey Reid. Bailey is a very pleasant young woman, a great presenter, and is quite knowledgeable on the topic. She had clear slides, great videos, and encouraged lots of conversation with the audience. I got the feeling that she is quite passionate about this topic. I even noticed that she was a little teary eyed during the documentary video.

I particularly enjoyed how Bailey stated that we should ask "why are women abused" rather than solely focusing on "why do women stay in an abusive relationship". It got my mind thinking and I still don't know the answer. I think it has something to do with equality and women's rights, but I am never comfortable getting into those topics. But I did learn that two very common reasons why women stay in an abusive relationship are:

1. Economic dependence - there are still many women who depend on their husbands to provide for their family and don't believe they can support their children without their husbands.
2. Not recognizing an abusive relationship - the victim is usually the last to recognize she is being abused and says things like "it will get better", or "it's none of your business!".

In my opinion, every woman should attend this presentation... period. You will learn about recognizing abuse (whether it's hitting, verbal abuse, etc...), and how to get help (a few tips on what you can say to the victim, calling a hotline, etc...). This type of knowledge should be as common as knowing what to do when someone was drinking and is about to drive. CU-WISE would like to invite Bailey to do another presentation this term in hopes of reaching more women at Carleton. I hope you will all go.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

CFES Votes to Adopt NCWIE

This guest post was written by CU-WISE Advertising Officer, Katherine Knewcombe.

So the CFES (Canadian Federation of Engineering Students) Congress voted to adopt NCWIE (National Conference on Women in Engineering) on Friday. What this means is that NCWIE has now become a service the Canadian Federation of Engineering Students is mandated to provide a memory and bidding opportunity to. I feel like I should be a lot more excited about this then I am. But it wasn't as if everyone was jumping to adopt NCWIE. Everyone seemed to think adopting the conference was generally a good idea, and that issues facing women in engineering need to be addressed regularly at engineering events and amongst student societies. The problem is that having NCWIE become a CFES service, a slew of red tape is added.

The aim was to make NCWIE more accessible to students and more of a truly national event. By opening NCWIE up to the networks CFES has in place, it should attract more sponsors and increase the number of schools with delegate in attendance. It should also be easier to attract speakers and donations since it will have a more official feel with the CFES logo attached. CFES will also provide the conference with "memory" by having a single national database of NCWIE history. This is an improvement over having to count on each hosting school to keep track of all the previous and current records now that Queen's has given up NCWIE.

All of this sounds like a bonus, and at first I couldn't find a downside. Then I realised bidding to host NCWIE will only occur at the annual CFES Congress each January. Voting to hold the upcoming congress and presidents' meetings took a full morning. With 150 delegates, roughly 40 of which have voting rights, that’s a long time to sit and listen to presentations about why a city with cheap transportation costs would be better than a city with experience hosting conferences. Even so, an extra hour of debates is worth having CFES provide NCWIE with a memory so that even if the conference were to be skipped one year, it could be picked up the next. What I'm worried about is who's going to want to pick up the conference again when interest is not high enough to run it every year. Western hosted NCWIE 2008, but only after Queen's began pressuring other schools to take it after no one initially bid.

Running a conference is not cheap, and certainly not easy to organize. Now future hosts of NCWIE will have to meet all CFES policies, such as providing full translations for all written material and live translators for sessions. Do not misunderstand me; I have nothing against French or having translation services available, or even having material presented in French. It does provide a perspective check for English speakers to have to listen to translators to follow a discussion or try to annunciate ideas in another language that they are not as comfortable with. Organisers will also have to report back to CFES executive on their budget and planned material. By adding more administrative tasks to the organising committees’ job, NCWIE may be more hampered then helped by CFES’ adoption.

The point of all this rambling is that I’m worried that now that NCWIE has a “memory” people will not be as worried about having it run every year. As soon as it starts taking years off it will become much harder to convince sponsors that it is a legitimate event with that generates enough interest and attention to be worth contributing. Even more worrisome is the idea that once it’s not a yearly event it will begin to fall off schools’ radars and students will be less likely to hear of it when it does run. NCWIE is TOO IMPORTANT for us to allow it to disappear! Not only because it provides an opportunity to directly discuss issues facing women in engineering such as low enrolment and class ratios, but also because it provides an opportunity to hear about the smaller initiatives WIE and WISE or any other university student group is participating in that we wouldn’t necessarily hear about at discussions on Women in Engineering discussions at other events. NCWIE provides us with an opportunity to hang out, meet new people and discuss whatever comes to mind in a predominately female crowd and I am strongly encouraging all of you to push for your societies to send delegates each year, consider getting a group of students together to put in a host bid or even just run a session, because frankly I’ll miss NCWIE if we let it drop off the map.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Domestic Abuse: What every woman should know

During Woman Abuse Prevention Month in November, Bailey Reid, the coordinator of the "Neighbours, Friends and Families" campaign, e-mailed CU-WISE offering to do a presentation for "our ladies", as she put it. The "Neighbours, Friends and Families" is a public education campaign to raise awareness of the signs of woman abuse. This e-mail caught my attention because I know how important it is to be aware of abuse, to know how to recognize it, and to learn what you can do about it. I know this because I founded the "Anti-Abuse" team at my high school, so I learned a lot from doing that.

So of course CU-WISE accepted Bailey's offer and she's presenting on Wednesday, Jan. 14th, 4:30-5:30pm in 5115 HP. Light refreshments will be served and admission is free. For more information about the talk, please visit our website's events page.

I'm going to leave you with 3 facts I found on the internet (shown below) and I hope all of you will come to the talk.

"A woman is in 9 times more danger in her home than on the streets" []

"1 out of 4 women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime"

"70% of domestic abuse is non-physical"


Women in advertising

Here's a photo-set of vintage advertisements. The nostalgia is fun, but there are a few ads that might catch your attention.

Like, say, this one. Phew, you might say, they sure don't make them like this anymore!

But how much has it really changed? I think some advertising may still be sexist toward women in that we are still often portrayed as nothing much more than sexual objects.

On the other hand, have you noticed that some ads have become sexist toward men instead? I can remember quite a few TV commercials that portray the husband as a bumbling goof that the wife has to bail out (or she is simply shown as smarter and more "normal"). Funny, that.

What's your opinion on today's advertisements? How far have they come? Is the sexism toward women still there? Maybe just more subtly? Share your examples!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy new year!

Theorem of the Day is offering a new year's present that some of you might enjoy: A calendar containing 12 theorems by women mathematicians!

The author is selling printed copies of the calendar, but since shipping costs worldwide are somewhat prohibitive, it's also being offered as a free download, in order to encourage people to have Women in Mathematics calendars in school and college classrooms all over the world. Hopefully, some of you will have time to print one out and share the math and the joy.

Happy new year everyone!