Friday, September 4, 2009

Reaching Out and Outreach
Ambassador: Mary Anne Egan, United States

There are several projects keeping me busy this year. First, the Student IMPACT alternative programming contest continues ( The template of a full day program for mathematically talented high school juniors (16 year olds) introducing them to various areas of computer science and using their new found knowledge to compete against other schools has been used across the country. Locally, it was held again at Siena College, Loudonville, NY, in January 2009 during a snow storm. Despite the weather, many schools participated and learned a lot about computer science. The topics this year included database integrity, geographic information systems, programming, computer security and problem solving. The chaperones accompanying each team include a faculty advisor and guidance counselor. Based on pre and post surveys of the adults that accompany their teams, we know we have made a difference. Before attending IMPACT, a majority of the adults were “not very likely to recommend” a computer related major to their talented math students. After attending IMPACT, the responses were “likely to recommend” and that the program made them “more aware of what a college student does as a CS or IS major”. We have already had schools request the date of the next IMPACT day to ensure funding for transportation and substitute teacher costs for the day.

Another project that I have been involved with is a service-learning initiative supported by Siena College and various national grants. The Campus/Community Consortium of the Capital Region (4CR) is an academic service learning network which aims to create and sustain strong community partnerships, integrate the academic service learning pedagogy into the classroom and community, and work towards community development. 4CR is guided by the principles of community voice, student engagement, faculty commitment and social responsibility. With the integration of service to the community into traditional course work, we hope to widen the students’ perspective without sacrificing academic rigor. This semester, I will be teaching Introduction to Computer Science (CS1) and will require students to create animations and interactive games for a local agency working with children. It is my goal to expand this service learning initiative beyond the local community and into the global community with several projects in the planning stages for future semesters.

Work has begun on an international initiative with ambassadors from Australia, Great Britain, United States and Turkey. Several of us will be presenting at Grace Hopper in October on “Multi-level International programs working to change perceptions about IT courses and careers”. More to come on this at a later time.

Finally, the local Women in CS community has grown. The ACM-W student chapter has been officially accepted and now appears in all college listings of clubs and activities for students. Funding through alums and Grace Hopper has provided the ability to bring four undergraduate students and a high school student to the Grace Hopper Conference this year. And, the club is active with local high schools, even providing mentoring and support during the FIRST Robotics build season

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A German Kiwi in Berlin
Ambassador: Annika Hinze, New Zealand

It is an interesting thing to visit your country of origin after several years. The New Zealand ambassador has just completed a six month secondment to the Humboldt University in Berlin.

Just as in other countries, women in computer science are a rare breed in Germany (less than 15%). To strengthen their situation, each German university has a full-time women's representative - some are called 'equal opportunity commissioner' so as not to discriminate against men. Additionally each computer science department has elected one of their female employees or students as a part-time women's representative. One can also imagine how every female faculty member (together with the department-based women's representative) is encouraged to plan girls' days, participate in never-ending appointment boards, run projects for women and so on. Thus the few women available carry a double load: They typically are torn between advancing their own career and supporting other women in Computer Science. On the other hand, a lot of women involved in attracting women to computing are organising these activities in their spare time or give up on computer science research altogether.

FiNCA provides a different solution. FiNCA is a project at the Adlershof campus of Humboldt University ( . The project's name- 'Frauen in den Naturwissenschaften am Campus Adlershof'- translates as Women in Science at Campus Adlershof. The under-representation of women at the science park Adlershof, especially in computer science and physics, is addressed by projects, series of lectures, girls-days, and mentoring initiatives. The lynch pin of these activities is Martha Gutsche, who is funded by the university to coordinate the FinCA projects. The main goal of FinCA is the creation of a female network that involves women at all levels: schools, universities and non-academic institutions. One of the recent lectures organized by the FiNCA club was a talk by Annemieke Craig, ACM-W Ambassador Program chair about measuring the success of intervention programmes for women in computing (

For the NZ ambassador, it is now time to go back to New Zealand to organize the 2010 Computing Women Congress (

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Increasing Female Participation – A CS Project Team Experience with a Difference
News from Turkey
(Ambassador: Reyyan Ayfer)

I have always dreamed of my students working with an international student team on a computing project. This dream became reality when I met Archana Chidanandan at the 2008 ITiCSE conference at Madrid. Archana is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Software Engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Cary Laxer and Archana Chinandran have been carrying out such an international project course with Sweden and decided to collaborate with us too. With the support and dedicated work of my colleagues Lori Russell Dağ and İpek Sözen the project resulted in three products: A web page to teach children about their rights, a Google tool for following up the events related to child rights and games for children age 10-12 to teach them about their rights.

It was a great experience!

Students worked in teams, to analyze, design and develop software solutions for “Child Rights” for the International Children's Center (ICC) where the leaders of the center were very excited and supportive about the project.

Students from the Rose-Hulman Institute visited Bilkent with their supervisor twice during the semester for face to face meetings. At other times they communicated on line using Moodle course management system and other Internet tools like Skype, Facebook, MSN, email.Here is the news item at Bilkent News after the first visit:

And the second visit was at the end of the semester to present the final products. You can reach the finished site that includes the games from:

In addition to the successful results, what made me very happy is the representation of female CS students on the team: 6 to 5! I am sure that CS will be more attractive for female students when its use and the impact of computing in a global community is emphasized.

With my best wishes and warm regards.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Two Projects in the Pipeline
Ambassador: Catherine Lang, Australia

The Australian ACM-W Ambassador has two exciting projects in the pipeline this year. The first, Digital Divas targets junior secondary school students. It is a collaborative project funded by the Australian Research Council, with the Education Department, the Australian Computer Society and three universities to design and deliver an interesting curriculum for Years 8 and 9 girls to increase engagement with IT courses and careers. There is a great deal of interest already from both government and private schools. (Photo shows Digital Diva class).

The second project is planning OzWIT 2009: Australian Celebration of Women in ICT. OzWIT has a mission of informing, sharing, community building, and re-energising those involved in the recruitment and retention of women in information technology. The one-day celebration will be held in December this year, providing an opportunity for people from all aspects of ICT, teaching, industry and academia to come together to share knowledge, learn, network and have fun. To make the day a success however, we need many contributors and sponsorship and we are inviting ACM-W members to consider how they might contribute. (Photo shows enthralled audience from AusWIT2006).

Recent statistics from Australia emphasise the need for us to keep working in this arena. In the 21st century the number of students, both male and female, taking up ICT courses and careers is still in decline. In Australia the number of students enrolling in ICT courses at universities has decreased by 1/3rd in the last 7 years. More worrying is that the number of women attracted to our field has halved (from 11,566 in 2001 to 6,101 in 2007, ref: DEEWR)).

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hello from Saskatoon Canada!
Ambassador: Julita Vassileva, Canada

Hello from Saskatoon, Canada!
(where in April the ice is hesitantly thawing)

Let me present to you Carrie Demmans (in the photo), a 2nd year M.Sc. student in Computer Science at the University of Saskatchewan and a Science Ambassador in a First Nations Community on the Prairies, 2.5 hours North of Saskatoon. But first a few words about the Science Ambassadors Program ( . The idea is to send senior undergraduate and graduate students to Aboriginal Communities for extended periods of time (for example, 1 day every week, 1 week every two months, or 6 weeks in spring). The students help the teacher to find and prepare hands-on science activities, experiments, and games and find culturally appropriate ways to explain science laws or phenomena. During the 2008/2009 year Carrie travelled to the community every 6 weeks and spent a week there as Science Ambassador. The school had just acquired enough computers to equip a lap and place a computer in each classroom. The teachers had no experience with computers and Computer Science has never been part of their curriculum, but they realized the importance of teaching their children skills for the digital age. So Carrie helped the teachers and the students get comfortable using the computers and started teaching computer science concepts across all the grades. Here is what Carrie wrote about her experience as a Science Ambassador:

“Last fall I went into a community near where I grew up and started working with the kids and teachers in their primary school. When I first got there I was given a space in the Computer Lab and a schedule to do computer science activities with each of the classes from grade 2 through 8. I also started helping the nursery, kindergarten, and grade 1 classes during their computer class. I would help them with learning how to log on, and use the computer for the task that their teacher assigned. I am now doing computer science activities with the grade ones, and I am still helping the nursery and kindergarten classes with general computer literacy.

After introductions and getting to know the kids in each class a little better, we did an activity about perceptions, where they had to identify the scientists in a picture and explain why they thought each person was or was not a scientist. We then discussed these ideas and I revealed who among those in the photo were scientists and the type of science that they did. We got to talk about what engineers, geologists, biologists, physicists, and computer scientists did at work. We also discussed their hobbies when I thought that a scientist’s hobby would be of interest to the kids.

Following that initial activity we did a variety of activities about computer science both on the computer and off the computer. Some of these activities were borrowed from CSUnpluggged, while others were developed by me and members of our university’s undergraduate student body for use in their children’s summer camp. The kids and teachers have learned about binary numbers, searching strategies, graphics, software engineering design principles, security, algorithms, and a little bit about programming. Even the grade ones have programmed an animation in only 20 minutes by using Scratch! Over the next couple of months, the kids will learn how to use excel by performing a Fits Law experiment, and they will get to build and program Lego MindStorms robots.

I usually try to have the kids perform an activity and have some guided free time on the computer. If we get the planned activity done in time, I may have them try out different recommender systems or visit a particular website that teaches literacy or math skills through games. At first the kids were resistant and just wanted to go look at videos, but they’ve now gotten used to the system and have their favorite games. What I like about this approach is that it gives the kids some freedom, while ensuring that they are working on core skills that are necessary to their success.

The teachers and administration have done a great job of welcoming me into their community. We help each other out, have potlucks, and share recipes. Their culture teacher has been especially welcoming and we’ve worked together to find electronic resources that she can use in her Cree classes. Overall, I would say that this continues to be an exceptionally rewarding experience for which I am grateful.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sandy's Story - for Ada Lovelace Day
Guest Blogger: Annemieke Craig, Deakin University, Australia

As indicated in Barbara’s recent article we would like to celebrate ‘Ada Lovelace Day’ by publishing an article about a woman in technology. Sandy is the IT Manager for the Institute for Technology Research and Innovation at Deakin University in Australia.

To celebrate Ada Lovelace day we present Sandy’s story:

As the youngest of my 3 children approached school age, I began a short IT course to improve my job prospects. One week later, I found I was "unexpectedly expecting" baby number 4. I completed the course and my results were good, including 100% in a database exam 5 days before the birth of my baby, (helping to debunk the myth that pregnancy makes us vague) so I continued on with another certificate, a diploma and graduated with a degree at the ripe old age of 43.

I was only looking to work part time at first and began work straight away as the IT support for a small and friendly group of staff and postgraduate students in the School of Information Systems at Deakin's Geelong and Warrnambool campuses. I was then transferred to the Faculty IT group which had an emphasis on staff training. Then I increased my hours by working at the same time as IT support in the School of Engineering where I had invaluable support and encouragement from my supervisor/mentor in the School. Next I successfully applied for a full time position in the newly formed Centre for Material and Fibre Innovation. When the Centre combined with BioDeakin and Intelligent Systems Research to form the Institute for Technology Research and Innovation, I was promoted to IT Manager of the Institute where I've been for almost a year.

And what a great position this is! Every day is different and they fly by so quickly. I'm responsible for planning and management of IT support and advice, IT systems and administration for rapidly expanding numbers of ongoing and visiting staff and postgraduate students, maintenance of all computers in our labs, design and maintenance of websites, software licensing, management of leasing and purchase of computers and printers. I supervise a very capable IT technician who assists me. We look after the computers in the advanced cad lab, haptics lab, computers attached to a variety of microscopes, including the electron and atomic force microscopes and those attached to large industrial machines and delicate measuring equipment. We work closely with the other admin and technical staff in our area and other IT staff in the university. We work with interesting people in a multicultural working environment - our staff and students come from places such as China, India, Iran, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Czech Republic, last count we had people from 18 different countries. My job is to make sure they have all the IT resources they need to do their research in nanotechnology, biomaterials, composites, polymers, fibres, textiles, metals, computer modelling, haptics, robotics, cancer, diabeties, materials for solar panels, lightweight materials for automobiles and aeroplanes, biomaterials for bone replacements and more. It's worthwhile research that I'm proud to have a small part in.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day
Guest Blogger: Barbara Boucher Owens, USA

Ada Lovelace Day is March 24, 2009

A movement to promote female role models in technology is underfoot and you can help. But first some background, most of which I gleaned from Betty Toole's marvelous biography, Ada, The Enchantress of Numbers, Prophet of the Computer Age.

Most women in computing have probably heard Augusta Ada Lovelace, (or Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace) referred to as the world's first programmer. The more I learn about Ada's remarkable life the more I am impressed by her intellectual acumen. Augusta Ada was born 10 December1815, the only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron and his wife, Anne Isabella (Annabella) Milbanke, Lady Byron. Ada's mother left Lord Byron in January of 1816 and received full custody of Ada as she was thereafter known. Ada never had a significant relationship with her famous father, but when Ada Lovelace died at age 36 she was buried next to him at her own request.

Lady Byron insisted that 5-year old Ada be tutored from dawn to dusk, hoping her daughter would be a mathematician or scientist, not a poet like her father. At age thirteen Ada suffered from measles and was confined to bed for three years, but her mother insisted that her rigorous mathematical education continue. Her mother made sure that Ada met the major inventors and scientists of the day. At age 17 she and her mother met with Charles Babbage. Both Ada and her mother were enthralled by his plans for the Difference Engine, a mechanical calculating machine, dubbed a “Thinking Machine” by Annabella.. She began then a lifelong correspondence with Babbage. She at that time began her correspondence with Mary Somerville, an influential mathematician and astronomer of the time. With her she discussed her ideas about Babbage's work as well. Through her lifetime she corresponded with other luminaries such as Michael Faraday and Augustus de Morgan.

In 1835 she married William, Lord King who in 1838 became the Earl of Lovelace and she the Countess of Lovelace. In 1839 the young countess had given birth to three children, Byron, Annabella and Ralph. She like many women of the aristocracy, maintained three homes, supervised many servants and found it difficult to pursue her many intellectual interests.

Her mathematical studies progressed and she offered to aid Babbage. In 1843 Babbage had given a series of lectures on his Analytical Engine in Turin, Italy. An Italian engineer wrote an article summarizing the technical aspects of the Analytical Engine. Ada translated the article and added notes of her own. Babbage was impressed with these notes in which she put the Analytical Engine into a broader context. She viewed the potential of the machine as a general purpose device that could move beyond the processing of numbers into the processing of any information that could be represented symbolically. It was Babbage who gave Ada the sobriquet “Enchantress of Numbers”

Ada Lovelace died in 1851 following a common medical treatment, bloodletting, which was performed in an attempt to cure the cancer from which she was suffering. One of her last non-family visitors was Charles Dickens! Ada referred to her quest for knowledge as “Poetical Science” and her life is a beacon for us all.

The programing language Ada was named for her, and its 1995 reference manual is titled 1815, the year of her birth.

There are lots of intriguing sources about her life, ideas and family available. In addition to Tolle's biography, you might enjoy Woolley's The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason, and Byron's Daughter. I strongly recommend the biographic film To Dream Tomorrow. I haven't seen Conceiving Ada but seems like an interesting fictional piece. I enjoyed, Haunted Summer, a film about the travels of Lord Byron with Percy and Mary Shelley after separating from Annabella and Ada. The lovely little book, Scientists Anonymous by Patricia Fara has a short biography of Ada Lovelace, suitable for younger readers. Fara also contributed to a biographical piece on Ada broadcast on BBC.

Now to action. Ada Lovelace Day

If you're a blogger and happy to write/video/podcast about one of your female technology heroes on 24th March 2009, please do join us in supporting the following fantastic initiative from Suw Charman-Anderson and sign-up to the Ada Lovelace Day Pledge:

I will publish a blog post on Tuesday 24th March about a woman in technology whom I admire but only if 1,000 other people will do the same. — Suw Charman-Anders

This entry is reposted from Barbara Boucher Owens' blog with her permission.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sim visits 'Go Girls Go for IT' in Australia
Guest Blogger: Annemieke Craig, Australia

The last years of secondary school are important for thinking about what careers students can consider. Declining number of females studying computing at tertiary level indicates that many girls may just not be aware of the opportunities a career in IT can bring - or the important skills they have to bring to this industry. At Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia a 'Go Girls Go for IT' day was recently held for secondary school girls aged 13 - 17. Organized by the VicICT Network for Women the 'Go Girl Go for IT' program, presented an opportunity for the girls to experience the incredible range of vocational avenues that are available in IT.

Sim who had recently arrived in Australia to do her media and marketing campaign for the new SIMS game from EA, made her way to the event. We caught up with SIM at the event and asked her about being invited to appear as the mascot for the event. In her normal manner she smiled and with a little shuffle displayed her enthusiasm for the event. As a DJ, SIM understands the importance of exposing the opportunities in the IT world to girls and was more than happy to assist. Being able to meet over 1500 school girls and their teachers was a highlight of her trip to Australia. Sim is pictured here meeting one of her many admirers.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Still a men’s world
Ambassador: Maria Knobelsdorf, Germany

I would like to start the January Blog by wishing you all a happy, healthy, and successful New Year!

My name is Maria Knobelsdorf and I’m the new ambassador for Germany. Let me begin my report about Women in CS in Germany by giving you first a brief account of the overall situation today and in the past.

CS was established at German universities in the 1970s. Female students were attracted by the new CS programs (of all first CS students 25% were women) and their participation constantly rose. During the 1980s and 1990s, in West-Germany the famous shrinking pipeline was established and female participation dropped to 7%, then slowly leveling off to 14% in the 90s. In East-Germany by contrast, the percentage of female CS students remained high throughout and only started to drop down after the reunification in 1993. Since then it has remained constant at less than 20%. At the beginning of the new century, the German government established several “women into CS/IT/Computing”-programs to augment the percentages of CS female students up to 40% in 2004. Unfortunately, beside a small augmentation due to the, CS female students still remain under 20% [1].

What are the reasons? Maybe one of the key points is that in German high schools CS is not taught nationwide in every grade like Math or German. For example, in some German states, schools do not need to offer CS classes, whereas in other states they must offer CS as a minor subject in 9th and 10th grade. By consequence, many students frequently have wrong, limited, or inadequate ideas about career opportunities in CS, as well as CS social environment and culture. Beliefs about IT jobs and careers are highly biased and restricted to the cliché of a lonely male programmer in front of a computer-screen. Here is a long-lasting battle field between administration, government and the German CS Education community. The latter persistently demands that CS becomes a full subject in high school, meanwhile the other side claims that “all this computing, web-surfing, and e-mail writing students learn at home. How to use a word processor the German teacher, and how to use Excel for statistics the Math or Biology teacher can easily teach, too…”

Another reason for low CS interest among female students are certainly missing role models. CS teachers in high schools are mostly male and the university teaching and research staff in CS institutes or departments is male as well. Therefore, a lot of initiatives have been started to bring more women into CS, with “Informatica Feminale” probably being one of the most successful ones. Organized as a summer school for female CS students and faculty, Informatica feminale brings together students, research associates and professors to experience CS in an unfamiliar female environment. Younger students meet birds of a feather, and seniors act as role models. The CS summer school for women has been very successful for 12 years, and has also propagated the idea to Austria and New Zealand in the last years [2].

Altogether, female students in Germany remain a minority in CS at all levels, and many more initiatives are needed to bring about significant change. As a researcher in CS Education I investigate into students’ pathways to CS. Many studies from countries with the same problematic situation like [3], [4] as well as my own results [5] show that male students start very early not only to use the computer but to explore it. They are curious how computers work and, together with peers and/or family members, explore the computer’s functionalities and possibilities in an open, self-directed, and “learning-by-doing” learning habit. Women by contrast approach the computer more intellectually and seriously: computers are no toys for them but a tool. Therefore, they don’t play, hack, or tinker around with it. When the computer is not working, they don’t start to figure it out by themselves as long as they haven’t exactly understood how it works and what they need to do. Last but not least, very often girls don’t have a buddy they can ask for advice and discuss computer problems with.

The rest is history: the boys continue playing and exploring with the computer; they discover webpages and start to work with html; php, flash or other script languages follow; then, their buddy has an older brother who is learning Java in high school, etc. When boys start to major in CS in university, they are already very skilled computer users and administrators who knows a lot about programming. The girls on the contrary remain curious but also somehow “helpless” users. However, some of them are curious, interested, and brave enough to dare choosing CS as a major… More about students’ pathways to CS in another blog.

[1] Britta Schinzel (2004). Kulturunterschiede beim Frauenanteil im Studium der Informatik Teil II: Informatik in Deutschland.
[2] Homepage of Informatica Feminale.
[3] Margolis, J. and Fisher, A. (2002). Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing. Cambridge, MIT Press.
[4] Cohoon, J. M. and Aspray, W. 2006 Women and Information Technology. Research on Underrepresentation, MIT Press
[5] My publication list about students’ pathways to CS.