For Giulia Mattia, a sixth-year computer science student at UBC, finding her place in a male-dominated field took some time.
“I always say that I wish that I had someone when I was in high school or in first year just pushing me towards it, saying, ‘It’s okay to try out a computer science class, or to go into it,’” she tells the Georgia Straight in Victoria. “Instead, I always had people telling me to go into medicine, or other types of sciences. If I had more help in that direction, I think I might have gone into it earlier. I’m happy with where I’m at right now, but it’s always nice to have someone supporting you. So I want to be there for other people, and let them know that I can help them if they have questions.”
Mattia’s desire to lead other women into the tech industry piqued the interest of those judging the Women in Technology and Indigenous Women in Technology Scholarships, funded by the Irving K. Barber British Columbia Scholarship Society. Hundreds of applications were evaluated, with individuals being scored on their academic achievement and commitment to pursuing a career in computer science, engineering, or mathematics. After much deliberation, ten students received the $10,000 award in a prestigious ceremony at Victoria’s Government House.
The scholarships aim to increase female presence in tech-related disciplines. Women are chronically underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematic (STEM) disciplines, receiving about 37 percent of credentials in those fields from B.C. post-secondary institutions. Of all the employees working in STEM-driven sectors across Canada, women make up only 22 percent. In addition, more than half of students who enter high school interested in those subjects change their mind by graduation—with girls being disproportionately represented.
“We want to open the doors for more women in the tech sector,” said Melanie Mark, minister of advanced education, skills and training. “Women have the knowledge, skills, and tech talent to launch successful careers in a dynamic sector, and we are committed to supporting them to get ahead. These scholarships are an important first step to giving more women opportunities to succeed in the tech sector.”
One of the recipients, UBC’s Emilie Boras, a third year studying mechanical engineering, has already started planning the ways that she could make an impact.
“Our final essay question [on the scholarship application] was about what problem we would solve in the world,” she tells the Straight at the award ceremony. “I talked about using exoskeletons for wheelchairs. Although wheelchairs are trying to remedy a handicap, they are in themselves a handicap. They put you on a different level, and it’s harder to orient and manoeuver yourself. I figured that it would be so much better if we could have people move around in the same way as someone able-bodied. We have walking robots already, and there are apparatuses that you can affix to someone for therapy and aiding in walking, but they’re pretty constrained because they only let people walk forward, or they’re plugged into a machine. I think it would be very impactful because it affects so many people.”
The B.C. tech industry is the province’s fastest growing sector. Currently generating more than $29 billion in revenue, it now provides a greater share of the region’s total GDP than the forestry industry. More than 106,000 individuals worked in the tech sector in 2017—an all-time high. Representing five percent of B.C.’s workforce as a whole, tech employees outnumber those in the mining, oil, gas, and forestry sectors combined, including the manufacturing activities related to those resources.
Currently, more than 10,200 tech businesses call B.C. home, with a large percentage looking to acquire new skilled employees. Labour markets forecast that more than 82,000 tech-related jobs will open up over the next decade in the region, with computer programmers, software designers, engineers, and other key roles in high demand. With its generous financial donations, the Irving K. Barber British Columbia Scholarship society hopes to aid in addressing the talent shortage.
“The sheer number and exceptional calibre of not just the award recipients but of all applicants speaks volumes about the contributions made and the contributions that women will inevitably make to this province,” said Rajiv Gandhi, chair of the society. “The namesake of our society believed strongly in education as the basis for equality, progress, and personal and professional satisfaction. We are humbled to steward this award and to play our part in encouraging the advancement of women in science.”
The 2018 Women in Technology and Indigenous Women in Technology Scholarship recipients are:
- Emilie Boras from Penticton – UBC – mechanical engineering
- Alexandra Dean from Nelson – UVic – computer science/math
- Emma Jackson from North Saanich – UBC – mechanical engineering
- Natella Jafarova from Victoria – UVic – statistics
- Giulia Mattia from Burnaby – UBC – computer science
- Emily Medema from Vernon – UBCO – computer science
- Angelina Pinchbeck from Kelowna – UBCO – math and computer science
- Marlie Russell from Williams Lake – UBCO – computer science
- Jobina Tamminga from Big Cedar – UBC – computer science (recipient of the Indigenous Women in Technology Scholarship)
- Amy Zhu from Vancouver – UBC – computer science
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