Support strong for women in STEM

As she looked around the packed room filled with more than 500 women, Lindsey Tulloch felt a sense of inspiration and hope for the future.

For the Brock Computer Science student, the ACM Canadian Celebration of Women in Computing Conference (CAN-CWIC) was much more than a networking event; It was an opportunity to band together to show support for women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) based programs.

Tulloch joined five other female Brock Computer Science students at the conference held Nov. 3 and 4 in Montreal. The experience would not have been possible without the generous financial support of the Department of Computer Science, which covered a significant portion of the cost for those interested in attending.

Computer Science students

ACM Canadian Celebration of Women in Computing Conference attendees at the Opening Banquet, from left, Monika Ovsonka, Lindsey Tulloch, Samantha Laffin, Sadia S. Hassan, Sabah Butt, Yosra Kazemi and representatives from Kobo.

The six students joined women across Canada to “explore industry and academic opportunities as well as share their experiences of being female in an industry that is still largely dominated by men,” Tulloch said.

“It was inspiring to be around so many women that are interested in the same things I am,” Tulloch said. “There’s only a handful of us (women in Computer Science) at Brock, which could lead one to mistakenly believe that women just aren’t that into tech, math or ‘nerdy’ stuff, but we totally are.”

The Niagara Falls native learned of the CAN-CWIC conference after striking up a conversation with a woman from Microsoft at a networking event. The new contact talked about some of her own experiences in the tech industry and recommended the conference to Tulloch as a way to grow her network of women in the industry.

With significantly less women than men choosing to enrol in university STEM programs, building a strong network is critical.

Conference Keynote speaker Margaret Ann Armour, Associate Dean of Science, Diversity at the University of Alberta and lifelong champion for the inclusion of women in science and engineering, elaborated on this point during her presentation.

Referencing the 2013-14 CAUT Almanac of Post-Secondary Education in Canada, Armour pointed out that while 58.2 per cent of women are enrolled in STEM programs at universities — an increase over years prior — only 24.9 per cent are studying computer science.

“Armour had a lot of really good points and statistics to set the stage for the conference and reaffirm the importance of making space for women in STEM,” said Tulloch, who was inspired by the presentation.

“It’s reassuring to see people that resemble you in positions you are interested in pursuing. It’s informative and empowering to hear the stories of women who have built their careers and been successful in STEM related roles,” she said. “Normally when you look at anything related to tech, you have to seek out the women, whereas the men are everywhere. At a conference like this, no seeking is required.

“Having a space where underrepresented groups are exclusively represented makes members of these groups more comfortable and eager to share their enthusiasm for tech.”

Tulloch’s own interest in computers and technology started after a friend encouraged her to partition her hard drive and switch to Linux, an open-source operating system.

From that moment on, she was hooked.

Learning about open-source software and the prospect of working and sharing knowledge with people all over the world to create some of the most important technologies in use today was “incredibly empowering and inspiring,” she said.

Drawn to Brock’s Computer Science program for its small department size and combination of “practical, challenging and interesting” classes, Tulloch has fully immersed herself in the program. Since starting her studies, she has been actively involved in the Computer Science Club. She is currently an honorary executive while on a 16-month co-op as a Software Engineer with Red Hat, a leading provider of open source, enterprise IT solutions.

Though working in a field dominated by men can be challenging, Tulloch has found support as well as role models and mentors at Brock.

Earlier this year, she attended the IEEE conference on Computational Intelligence and Bioinformatics and Computational Intelligence (CIBCB) held in Manchester, U.K. There she presented her findings on a research project she had been working on with Professor Sheridan Houghten as her advisor.

With the backing of her department and opportunities to attend events for women, created by women, the future for women in STEM looks bright for Tulloch and many others.

“Women are doing a lot of interesting things in tech, both in the industry and in academics,” she said.

For those who believe computer science is out of their reach, Tulloch offers the following advice: “Programming and coding is fun. A lot of people, particularly women that I have talked to, have never tried programming or coding and seem to believe that anything related to it would be impossible to learn. It’s just not true. It’s not really as hard as you think. Go take a free online programming course, I dare you.”

Next year’s CAN-CWIC 2018 Conference will be held in Halifax from Nov. 2 to 3.

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