Why is it that out of 20 awesome students in last summer's edition of IBM's Extreme Blue program in Ottawa, not one was female?
That was the question the current program lead here wanted to know the answer to, and she came to CU-WISE to ask it. We had a nice lunch meeting where we discussed why some of us had applied once and never applied again, how girls can be turned off by things that sound too technical, and how we are known to underestimate our abilities and thus avoid seemingly out of reach opportunities like this.
Luckily, IBM wants to change things. They've helped us find a few female mentors for a career event we're planning for March, and we organized a business case study competition with them to promote Extreme Blue to our members. In fact, this latter event just happened yesterday, and was held at Ottawa U in collaboration with their WISE group (note that males were also invited to participate, but priority was given to the women). Judging from the awesome pitches our girls made, the competition seemed to hit the mark!
Teams had four to five minutes to pitch an idea to a panel of judges that would create products for 'smarter' universities. Just by coincidence, two out of the three finalists pitched a smart parking system. They explained how they would use sensors to detect what parking spots were available, and how they would provide several types of services, from the web to mobile to signs on campus, to help students, faculty and staff, and visitors get parked as quickly as possible. Both teams who chose parking as their topic had enough differences to make it interesting.
The third team devised a system that would record classroom lectures and allow students to choose the pace, camera, and so on. I can't remember the details of this one as much, so if you were part of that group, tell us more in the comments!
It was amazing what good practice delivering the pitches was for the students who participated. Some seemed really nervous, but that will only make it easier next time. Public speaking is a skill often ignored in science and engineering programs, but it's a skill well worth having!
I'm looking forward to seeing what else we can accomplish with IBM, and hope all my talented software developing lady friends apply to Extreme Blue this year, or in the near future!