Friday, November 18, 2011

Event Idea: The Truth About Women in Science and Engineering

I recently came up with what I thought was interesting event idea.  Our Dean of Engineering had expressed some interest in CU-WISE coming up with an idea for a recruitment event that would attract the media and encourage high school girls to consider choosing Carleton in their upcoming university applications.  I haven't heard back from the Dean so I am not sure if this event will happen, but I thought I'd share the idea in case it helped any of you come up with your own.

The Truth About Women in Science and Engineering

The proposed premise is to be honest about what it’s like to be a woman in science or engineering. This begins as something that comes across as negative as we share the common challenges faced by students and others, but the idea is to show how a group like CU-WISE and all the other awesome things that Carleton does turns this all around. It is a risk to do anything negative at all (and it needs to be approached in just the right way), but there are two good reasons for this approach:
  1. It will build trust in the students we want to reach as well as their parents. All schools are trying to sell themselves as a product, but how many are willing to be honest about the situation? It’s the elephant in the room, and our audience should appreciate our ability to discuss it in the open.
  2. To attract the media, your approach has to be different. Sure, maybe you’d get a bit of air time for the usual outreach events, but they tend to be fairly similar to each other. Being willing to talk about these issues is not something that’s very common.
The proposed event would be a dessert reception held on the afternoon of a weekend. The reason for this is that a dinner would not only be more expensive, but require longer periods of sitting in one place (it will become clear why this isn’t desirable shortly). Choosing an afternoon on a weekend makes it easier for students and parents to attend since families need to get home from work and eat dinner before attending an event like this during the week. The great participation numbers at Go Eng Girl (held on a Saturday) proves that weekend events can be successful.

The dessert reception should include something to please both the parents (who are big influencers to their children’s choices) and the students. Offering beer and wine, if affordable, shows we are thinking of the former, and having cupcakes, cake pops, and milkshakes or smoothies for the girls should thrill the latter.

The main format of the event would be to have a short talk at the beginning to discuss the challenges faced by women in science and engineering and how CU-WISE and other Carleton initiatives help. This would be followed by a structured networking opportunity where parents and students would speak with current students, alumni, and faculty. Finally, hands-on demo and other info booths would be available during the last segment, when casual networking would take place. Dessert could be served in both of the last two segments or just at the end.

Possible Agenda

20 minutesTalk: The Truth About Women in Science and Engineering
(One or two guest speakers, depending on whether it will be joint between Engineering and Science)
As explained earlier, this is an opportunity to talk about the elephant in the room and build trust with both the parents and the students.  It is also an opportunity to showcase how CU-WISE helps by providing a support network and other great initiatives to Carleton students so they know they can expect to be able to overcome the challenges at Carleton.
40 minutesStructured Networking:
  • We will have a set of current female students, alumni, and faculty available to participate.
  • There will be at least one person from each of these groups at each numbered table.  They will see three different groups of parents and students and will be asked to talk about their experiences at Carleton, including challenges they faced and how they overcame them.
  • Each student/parent pair will draw three table numbers from separate bins, set up so that they get one table assigned to a current student, another to an alumnus, and another to a faculty member.
  • In each of the ten minutes, the student/parent pair will sit at their assigned table and have a discussion with the student/alumnus/faculty assigned to that table.
  • This will repeat twice so each pair talks to each type of person assigned to the tables.
  • Ten minutes in the schedule is allotted for time taken switching tables, etc.
Students appreciate the opportunity to see what life is like for current students, what kinds of jobs they can expect if they get through the program, and who will be teaching them.  This makes coming to university much less intimidating, and if they find themselves connecting with any of these people, they are more likely to remember Carleton favourably as a place they could see themselves studying at.

If possible, we may even be able to ask participants to tell us what programs they are applying for, and pre-match the tables they visit so they are able to speak to at least some people from that program or, at least, faculty.
60 minutesDemo and Info Booths
  • Demo booths should provide an opportunity to touch and try things as well as listen to someone from Carleton talk about the demo itself and how it relates to the kinds of things you study at Carleton.
    • Potential demos might include robotics, satellites, brain dissection, interesting interfaces from HCI students, water filtration, etc.
  • Info booths - such as one from Athletics - are important to emphasize the kind of balance you can have when you are a student at Carleton, and can show what other services are there to support students.
Besides the usual reasons for having hands-on demos (engagement, etc), they implicitly show the success of women at Carleton.  This continues to follow the theme on the Truth of Women in Science and Engineering in that we see what awesome things women here are really doing.


Kate said...

Hi Gail,

I wonder if it wouldn't also be worth sharing the benefits of a career in CS in terms of money/demand for engineers/wage gap (it's less of a gap than other fields). I know that seems a little crass, but as someone from a family with no connection to the technical world I was quite frankly shocked when I got my first co-op, and continue to be astounded by the many benefits I have now. If you don't know anyone in the field, reading about it doesn't do it justice, and really is an important factor in the decision making. I wonder how many other girls don't know what they are missing out on!

Yes, this is a challenging career, and there are things that make being a woman in it sometimes difficult (it can be lonely, for sure), but there are very good rewards, too.


Gail Carmichael said...

Absolutely I think it's a good idea. :) This is something that could be worked into the opening talk, I suppose, but I was mainly thinking that the alumni would be trained to talk about this sort of thing during the table/networking part.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a great idea. I hope it gets approved and other universities follow suit.

mica-to said...

Hi Gail, I am a high school senior thinking about doing computer science in university. I know how to code in C++ (up till class inheritance) but there is just one math is TERRIBLE! Would you still recommend me going into this field? Or am I destined to be a PoliSci major?

Gail Carmichael said...

You sure can! If you do computer science as an undergraduate degree, you will have to do some math. But it's honestly ok if it's not your strong suit. It just means you probably won't be interested in specializing in theory. But there are many other interesting areas of CS that aren't as math heavy, like human-computer interaction. So if you have already tried programming and like it, I say go for it! :D

Keating Willcox said...

I share with you my desire for women and men to have equal opportunity in CS. As a father, husband and uncle, my interest is in the success of women in these high paying CS and engineering fields. The problem I would see as an employer, is that there has been so much noise about not enough women in engineering that it may not be clear how good a women college grad is. The statistics for admission to the UTexas program show more men applicants, and better qualified. So, are we to believe that a call for more women or perhaps some minorities would encourage admission of weaker candidates, perhaps passing them through with poorer grades, and seeing far fewer of them continue to get the Ph.D. If I employ a woman CS engineer, am I allowed to have suspicions about her talent? Am I prepared for litigation if things don't work out?

Keating Willcox said...

The answer is easy. The main factor of admission or hiring should be a test, based on the sort of computer science skills someone has learned, and not an IQ test like the GRE. Everyone over a certain test score gets in. If this means there are not enough of some gender or minority, let the facility provide additional training and study before each test, but this test, like the exam for architect should be huge and complete. As an employer, the other thing I would like to have is an agreement by any incoming employee that they will accept termination from the job or program for cause, and not file a retaliation lawsuit based on status. This is giving up lots of legal rights, but if the goal is more women working in CS, this is a way to do it. If I hire a male, and things don't work out, I can fire this person for cause and not worry about a status lawsuit.

Gail Carmichael said...

Keating: Did you see this article yet? I think it's rather thoughtful and a worthwhile read.

Racism and Meritocracy

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated - please be patient while I approve yours.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.