Sunday, September 7, 2008

Handing Over
(Past Ambassador: Vashti Galpin)

Since I have come to the end of my term as the ACM-W ambassador for South Africa, I'd like to recap some highlights and introduce my successor, Cecille Marsh.

I've been in this role since 2000, and with the assistance of Hlami Huhlwane (who was then a second year Computer Science student at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg), we developed the first of the ACM-W ambassador websites. I focused on statistics (which were quite hard to get, and to get permission to use -- the situation is much better now, in fact there are too many to choose from!), programs for women in computing and women in science and technology in South Africa, and literature about women in computing in South Africa, which I knew a fair deal about because I was doing research in the area. The website has been updated at least yearly since then.

The things that really stand out for me when I look back are the two panels the ambassadors presented at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in 2002 and 2004. They were wonderful and gave the ACM-W ambassadors an opportunity to meet as well as to pass on information about women in computing in their countries. My impression was that the audience who were mostly North American really appreciated the opportunity to get an international perspective and we had many questions on both occasions.

I also had the opportunity to mentor three undergraduate female Computer Science students (Hlami, Kego and Debashree) when I employed them to work on the website, and I believe this benefited both me and them.

Dr Cecille Marsh has now taken over the role of ambassador and I'd like to tell you about her and her research. She is Associate Director in the School of Information & Communication Technology of Walter Sisulu University in East London. East London is a small city on the southern coast of South Africa. The rural areas around East London are extremely poor and many of the students at the university come from impoverished backgrounds and have attended under-resourced schools.

Cecille has recently conducted research into self-efficacy beliefs of students studying for the National Diploma in Information Technology at her university. Her research has shown that female students, unlike female students in some developed countries, have similar (high) computer self-efficacy to male students. This appears to be related to a perception that women can do anything and comes from the female role models that they have grown up with (many come from households that have a female head) as well as the empowerment of women in the new democratic South Africa. Ironically, the fact that many households have female heads was caused by the apartheid
policy of migrant labour.

I've also investigated self-efficacy at Wits which is more similar to a university in a developed country, with most students having attended technologically-advantaged schools and few students from rural areas. My research showed that among the Wits Computer Science students, female students had significantly lower self-esteem than male students, following the trends in developed countries. It's fascinating to compare these different results from different parts of South Africa.

I wish Cecille all the best for her term as ambassador and I wish everyone at ACM-W a fond farewell.