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Leading the celebrations of women in computing

[Wendy Powley]
Wendy Powley, a research associate and adjunct lecturer in the School of Computing and the Faculty of Education, was recently appointed as chair of the ACM-W Celebrations committee, a subgroup of the Association for Computing Machinery. (University Communications)

For years Wendy Powley (School of Computing) has worked toward attracting more women to the field of computing, at Queen’s, in Ontario and across Canada.  

A big part of this effort was founding and organizing the Ontario Celebration of Women in Computing (ONWIC), a conference that draws female students from across the province to gain experience, receive support and make valuable contacts.

Ms. Powley, a Research Associate and Adjunct Lecturer in the School of Computing and the Faculty of Education, also continues to play a key role in Women in the School of Computing (WISC) at Queen’s, an informal support and social group for all women, undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff, in the School of Computing.  

So it perhaps wasn’t much of a surprise that she was recently appointed as chair of the ACM-W Celebrations committee, a subgroup of the Association for Computing Machinery, the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society.

Having organized such Celebrations since 2010, she’s ideally suited for the role.

Ms. Powley will not only coordinate the organization of the Celebration in Canada, but she will oversee ACM-W Celebrations that occur annually worldwide. In the 2015/2016 academic year there are at least 10 Celebrations planned across the United States as well as Celebrations in Europe (2), India (2), Puerto Rico, Cuba and, of course, in Canada. In her new position, Ms. Powley will play a key role in encouraging new Celebrations in an effort to broaden their reach. She will share her expertise with Celebration organizers and ensure that the resources provided by the ACM-W such as funding, swag, web hosting, and emotional support reach each and every Celebration organizer.   

“Communication with my ACM-W mentors was crucial during the organization of our first Celebration. Kind offerings of advice, encouragement, and validation kept me going,” Ms Powley says. “That will be a big part of my role – to inspire and motivate others.  Organizing a Celebration is a huge undertaking, but I want them to know that in the end they will have no regrets. It is incredibly satisfying to provide an inspirational experience that will have a lasting impact on young people.”

It was the ACM-W Celebrations model that got ONCWIC started at Queen’s in 2010 – that along with a very keen group of student helpers from WISC. Each year since 2010 the conference has been hosted by a different university and has been growing in popularity. This year the conference has a new identity  the “Canadian Celebration of Women in Computing” and will become a national annual conference. It is expected to attract more than 500 women from across the country.

Queen’s continues to play a prominent role in the conference through Ms. Powley’s organizing role as well as the number of participants – a contingent of 60 at the most recent event.

This prominence is a positive for Queen’s as well as for the School of Computing.   

“Being visible at the Celebration as a very large group speaks volumes that women are welcome here at Queen’s in Computer Science,” Ms. Powley says. “It’s a way to retain our women as well.  Our first year students who attend find the event very inspiring as they see many positive female role models and learn of the vast opportunities available in the field.   We hope this has a lasting effect”.

So far the efforts have been successful at Queen’s. With approximately 35% of the undergraduates enrolled in computing programs being female, it is believed that Queen’s has the highest percentage in Canada. With the national average in North America hovering around 15%, there is still much work to be done.

She sees the ACM-W Celebrations as a key part of finding a long-term solution. 

“We need to be actively involved in encouraging women to come into the field. We are all consumers of technology. It only makes sense to ensure that there is diversity among its creators,” she says. “Ideally, the way to get more women into the field is to get more women into the field.”

Ms. Powley in her new role at ACM-W intends to ensure this happens.

To learn more about ACM-W visit women.acm.org.