Anaik Chacon, an undergraduate computer science student, wants to be part of a community that strives to empower members of underrepresented groups.
“I try to get involved in all things female empowerment in STEM fields and this program focuses on the issues, challenges and biases that women face. I always want to keep educating myself on these issues and I want to be part of the driving force that aims to solve these issues.
Anaik had the opportunity to do this through an emerging program at the Faculty of Computer Science.
Over the past two years, the Leacross Foundation has donated over $200,000 to the Faculty’s WeAreAllCS initiative to increase diversity in computing through scholarships and programs to support attraction and progression students who identify as women. The Leacross Foundation is a non-profit organization committed to the education of women and children in society with a focus on providing educational opportunities at accredited institutions in STEM fields.
“It fascinates me that when computers started to be integrated into our society, the idea of technology was gender neutral. Programs like WeAreAllCS would have been useless, but somehow, talented girls and women have been ignored, due to prejudice and a lack of support,” says Roslyn Bern, President of the Leacross Foundation.
“As we talk about supply chains, there is a need to focus on educating young people to ensure dynamic and interactive diverse engagement in programming our technology. It is in this spirit that our foundation is looking at the supports needed to ensure the success of all applicants, and to advance the number of female students in computer science and leadership.We are proud to have worked with Dalhousie to develop programs that support self-identifying female students by offering mentorship support, leadership skills and industry engagement opportunities.
Along with entrance scholarships, the funding supported scholarships for third- and fourth-year female students, industry mentorship, part-time work opportunities for current female students, and new opportunities for professional growth. through workshops facilitated by the Canadian Center for Women in Science, Engineering, Trades and Technology (WinSETT). A total of 80 female students benefited from this enhanced support and opportunities.
Anaik feels lucky to be part of a program that provides her with a support network and important connections.
“I think programs like these are important because of the different kinds of support they provide,” she says. “Any financial assistance in these difficult times is always extremely helpful and should not be overlooked. Moreover, the support of your mentor can give you a lot of confidence and will help you throughout your student life and your future career. Leadership is such an important skill to cultivate and share, so having a curriculum that is almost entirely dedicated to it is very important.
People CGI and RBC have provided mentors to the program for the past two years, which aligns with both organizations’ broader commitments to equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility (EDIA).
RBC’s Amplify program is a key example of how it equips students of all backgrounds and walks of life with crucial skills and experience.
“Seeking gender balance is key to building a forward-looking team – our Amplify program provides unique mentorship and training opportunities for students while creating an inclusive environment for women in the field of technology to grow and accelerate their careers,” says Jamie Holman, senior manager if the Amplifier program. “In 2021, 48% of program participants were women, and 91% of those women received job offers to return to RBC for future employment.
For Dorah Jonah, Vice President, Consulting Services at CGI, the commitment to the WeAreAllCS initiative has not only provided an opportunity to give back, but also to tap into a diverse pool of digital talent.
“Since CGI has been involved in these programs, we’ve increased our co-op program, which was embarrassing next to nothing to a very strong co-op strategy and new grads,” she says. “Over the past 12 months, we have recruited over 32 IT co-ops and hired 27 new grads with another 18 new grad hires expected in 2022. And, even more exciting, our May 2022 co-op recruiting is all female .
Dorah Jonah (CGI), center, with two former WeAreAllCS student mentees.
Develop the program
Julia Embrett, a Bachelor of Applied Computer Science student, is the mentoring coordinator for the program. Thanks to funding from the Leacross Foundation, she is paid to do this alongside her studies. Like Anaik, she recognizes how important programming like this can be in empowering those who may have never seen themselves in IT.
“The program demonstrates a commitment to helping women realize their full potential. Students will be able to carry what they gain from these learning experiences with them beyond graduation and continue to perform well in the workplace,” says Julia.
“Personally, as someone from an arts background, I was afraid that there was no place for me when I started my undergraduate studies in a completely different discipline. I was pleasantly surprised to see how the IT industry is expanding and that creativity is valued just as much as logical problem solving. I felt very encouraged by the efforts of the Faculty to promote the WeAreAllCS initiative, because I can not only share my own ideas, but also work with and hear the ideas of others from all walks of life.
Jonah echoes the importance of dedicated efforts to move the needle and provide the support needed to help underrepresented groups succeed in the growing digital industry.
“Programs like this are important cornerstones within our university community to help female students on their journey. Women in tech have struggled for too long to bridge the gap between academia and industry and these programs provide a level of support and guidance that allows students to navigate a not-so-clear path, more the mentor and mentee learn from each other.
Following the success of the Leacross leadership program for self-identifying female students, the Faculty of Computer Science is using this model to increase support for students from other groups that have historically been underrepresented in computer science.
New for 2022, the Indigenous and African Nova Scotian Student Leadership Program will provide financial support, mentorship and professional development opportunities for current students in these groups. It is hoped that by the end of 2022, more than 100 students will have engaged in diversity leadership programs at the Faculty.