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.