Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Line Game at Design Tomorrow's World

I just got back from Design Tomorrow's World. The event is very engineering focused, so being a computer scientist, I wanted to give them a bit of an idea of what CS is all about. I was invited to do an ice-breaker activity for ten minutes.

Normally, in these situations, I would use CS Unplugged activities. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough time to plan how to do these in only ten minutes, so I thought back to what I learned at an excellent outreach session at Grace Hopper 2008.

I ended up doing an easy little ice breaker called "the line game" some of you might be able to use one day. Basically, you have the group arrange themselves in a line based on how well they agree with a particular statement. This forces them to move around, and to talk to the others so they find the right spot (you can probably even bring in some sorting theory into it). I used three statements that lead into a bit about what computer science is all about:
  1. "I like playing video games." For those who really loved them, I talked about my school's computer science games stream. For the others, I explained that not everyone in CS is into games (basically trying to show that it's not a bunch of male, nerdy hard-core gamers).
  2. "I like math." I explained how algorithms are like mathematical thinking, but that you can focus more on design of interfaces and people etc if you want to.
  3. "I have programmed or would like to try it." Everyone has to learn to program in computer science, I said that it's worth giving a try since they might like it (then I plugged my upcoming mini-course they could sign up for - Computer Science and Games: Just For Girls!).
The activity seemed to hit the spot, as I had some educators get my contact info afterwards so I could come tell their gifted students more about computer science. I think the girls also appreciated getting up and moving. ;)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Capstone: Exciting Collaborative Opportunity for Undergraduate Students

This is a guest post from Greg Wilson from the University of Toronto; Greg is hoping to increase awareness of this really cool opportunity, and would especially like to see more women take notice.

Over the past year, we have been piloting a new program in which senior undergrads from several different universities work together on open source projects. Each student registers in a project course at his or her home institution, then works in a team of 4-6 students that span several schools. The goal is to give students hands-on experience with both leading edge software, and the human skills that are just as vital to being successful in the real world.

This term we have 45 students from 14 universities on 8 different projects including geospatial database extensions, configuration tools for the Mozilla Thunderbird email client, soccer-playing robots, and a variety of others. Their work has ranged from surveying users about their needs and designing user interfaces to coding, testing, and preparing releases. There has been a lot of online discussion and negotiation, and some face to face as well: we brought all the students together for three days early in term for meetings, and plan to do it again next term.

We are now recruiting students for the next round (Jan-Apr 2010). Our project list is up at http://ucosp.wordpress.com/projects/, and once again there's going to be a strong emphasis on collaboration and design. If you have a strong B or A average and are interested in taking part, please contact your local faculty organizer --- as past students have discovered, it's a great way to open doors for both grad school and industry, and equally great for discovering that there's more to software development than hacking in C.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

An inspirational book written by our very own

Dr. Monique Frize is an engineering professor at Carleton and Ottawa University who revived Ottawa WISE in 1997. After 8 years of researching, writing, and editing, she finally published her book titled "The Bold and the Brave: a history of women in science and engineering". I attended her book launch on Dec. 1st, got her autograph, and started reading the next day.

I've been waiting to get my hands on this book ever since I first met Dr. Frize at McMaster University's WISE initiative conference in 2008 where she was a speaker. To tell you the truth I was quite enthralled by all that she knew and had experienced. I remember she talked about things that happened so far back in time that I realized just how big of a deal her book was and I wanted to know more.

I haven't read very far yet so you'll have to wait for more posts from me later, but I wanted to leave you with a short interview my friend Jennifer Ng, the IEEE WIE Ottawa Chair, had with Dr Frize:
What was the most challenging part of the book to write? What was the easiest? The first two parts (philosophy and history) were the most difficult as I had to find all the material from sources that I had not seen before. The contemporary part was the easiest, having done 20 years of work on women in science and engineering through the two Chair positions I held (Northern telecom/NSERC women in engineering Chair at UNB, then the NSERC/Nortel Chair for women in science and engineering at UO and CU).

If you did not study engineering, what would have been your alternate choice?
Medicine was my other choice.

If you restarted your engineering studies today, what specialties would catch your attention?
The same: Electrical Engineering and then Biomedical Engineering

Is there an engineering domain today which one has to be brave & bold to tackle?
I think most would require a woman with confidence, who believes in herself. But perhaps biomed and environmental are a little easier for women than say mining or construction, petroleum, etc.

Any particular advice for today's young female engineer?
Believe in yourself! And find good mentors at each stage of a career. Jump over hurdles and you will reach your goals. Pick your battles carefully and sleep 24 hours prior to responding to conflict by letter or a meeting (except if an immediate response is needed).

Any particular advice for today's young male engineer?
You need to see the value in feminine attributes and respect your female colleagues. Everyone has their talents and skills and it is important to value the contributions from people who are different from us. You can be part of the solution to build a balanced world of engineering and technology.

Anything else that you would like our IEEE Canada readers to know about your book?
Everyone can find something in the book that they can do to move towards an engineering profession that is more balanced and that respects everyone's perspectives and contributions. The book will hopefully also help mothers, fathers, uncles and aunts to open up opportunities for the girls in their family to consider more career choices, including engineering!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Marking the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

TRIGGER WARNING: this post discusses actual violence against women, specifically the story of the École Polytechnique Massacre. There's little graphic detail here, but several of the links in this post contain fairly disturbing information.

In Canada, December 6th is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. The day was chosen as a memorial to those killed in the École Polytechnique Massacre, which happened on December 6, 1989. On that day, a lone gunman walked into the school and killed 14 people, injuring more, before turning the gun on himself. He claimed that feminists had ruined his life and that the young women engineers he targeted must be feminists because of their non-traditional career choice.

Members of CU-WISE, GSA, IEEE WIE, Womyn's Center, Foot Patrol, and MEN were out in the unicentre on Dec 3rd to raise awareness of the issues, and to raise money for a pair of women's shelters in the area which burned down. At 1pm, we held a candlelight ceremony in the unicentre:

After the ceremony, we showed the new film, Polytechnique. I made the mistake of staying to watch part of it. Not that it is a poorly done film, but I found it quite deeply disturbing. Mark Lepine's suicide note actually sounds too much like the death threats I, and many other women involved in the open source community, have received from another deranged individual (trigger warning: the link is to a post which discusses some of the vile stuff he says). And after watching part of the film, I then had to walk through Carleton's halls, which share some of the same institutional feel to the hallways of École Polytechnique. I will caution that this film can be highly disturbing, and note that I will likely never watch the rest of it.

However, despite my misgivings with the film, and the unpleasant feelings that come with marking the date of the Montréal Massacre, I think it was a great opportunity to talk to some of our wider university community about the history and the issues.