Women-in-Computing Talks Open Grad Student's Eyes to Future Career Possibilities
San Diego conference draws more than 1,200 delegates from around the world
BY ANDREW VOWLES
As one of three women in her class of about 50 computing science students at U of G, Alana Cordick is used to being in the minority. But the picture was reversed for a few days this fall when she attended the world's largest gathering of women in computing. Out of more than 1,200 delegates from around the world, all but about 100 were women.
“It was a completely different experience,” says Cordick, now completing her fifth year in the co-op option of Guelph's bachelor of computing program.
She won a student scholarship funded by the National Science Foundation and Google to attend this year's Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. The world's leading technical conference for women in computing science and information technology was held in San Diego.
Begun in 1994, the four-day event is intended to encourage women to pursue computing careers, find ways to increase the number of women in computer science, dispel stereotypes of computer scientists and allow participants to discuss their research. (Named for U.S. navy admiral Grace Hopper, a mathematician and computer scientist, the conference is organized by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology in Palo Alto, Calif.)
“The number of women who gathered at this conference was overwhelming,” says Cordick. “Speaking with women in the various levels of their undergraduate and graduate degrees, academia-oriented individuals and industry-oriented individuals opened my eyes to the possibilities for future career paths I have available.”
Originally from Oshawa, she will begin graduate studies at Guelph in January. Working with Prof. Judi McCuaig, Computing and Information Science (CIS), she plans to study intelligent tutoring systems and adaptive computing, or ways to make computing more intuitive and user-friendly. She hopes eventually to teach at a college or university.
Cordick spent two of her co-op work terms working for Computing and Communications Services on the University's MyPortico portal project.
She's one of four tutorial assistants — and the only female TA — for an introductory computing course at Guelph whose roughly 150 students are nearly evenly split between males and females. She also belongs to a “women in computing” group started by McCuaig.
“The demand for people knowledgeable in computing is growing,” says Cordick, who received three requests for her résumé at the conference.
Women make up about 17 per cent of undergraduate enrolment in computer and information science programs in Canada and about 28 per cent of master's enrolment, according to 2006 figures from the Canadian Association of University Teachers. Here at Guelph, women make up five to 10 per cent of the enrolment, says Prof. Deb Stacey, chair of CIS.
“This is comparable with engineering, and these are the two areas of university education where women are significantly under-represented,” says Prof. Val Davidson, Engineering, who holds the NSERC/HP Chair for Women in Science and Engineering.
“I think the Grace Hopper celebration is very important as a networking event for all women in computing. It's also important in terms of retention, so that grads like Alana are motivated to continue in a career in computer science.”
Stacey adds that such events help both male and female students learn more about career opportunities. Noting that Cordick spoke this fall to CIS students about her experience, Stacey says: “The men were envious about her having gone there.”