Increasing Tech Literacy in Waterloo Region

Friday, November 6, 2015

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Written by Stephanie Rozek (BASc ’00) 

I am often asked why I do the work I do. While studying Electrical Engineering at the University of Waterloo, the most common question I received was “Why, as a woman, did you choose to study engineering?” Over time, my response evolved to a finely tuned sound bite that I could recite in my sleep, if needed.

Today, I think my answer to the question “Why are you doing this?” would be “Because I still get asked this question. Because the work is not yet done.”

Since completing my education, I’ve worked in the tech sector, primarily in Kitchener-Waterloo. I’ve started two businesses – a tech learning organization and a small marketing agency, and my current project is a not-for-profit campaign called Year of Code Waterloo Region. Our goal? Nothing less than reaching 250,000 people, whether they’re five or 95, and engaging them in learning about the technologies that are creating our future.

For the past few years, I’ve been more and more focused on improving access to tech literacy. Many groups have historically faced barriers to entry in the STEM fields: women, people of colour, newcomers to Canada, those with disabilities, and many others. While in school, I would have been the first to tell you that I had not personally experienced any discrimination due to my gender, and I was proud of being a strong woman in an atypical field. But over time, I’ve become sensitive to the subtle and institutionalized barriers to entry that exist in the tech and scientific fields, and I’ve become passionate about removing them.

Our future - here in Waterloo Region, across Canada, and globally – is a digital world. Our lives are increasingly defined by technology, and the code behind it. I believe that understanding technology, whether that’s how to program or how to use Skype to connect with loved ones, is a crucial 21st century literacy, and our team is working to make sure our citizens have access to the knowledge they need.

I am very proud of the groundbreaking work being done by the people that live and work here. Our region has been called Silicon Valley North with good reason, and we are uniquely positioned to take on this challenge: Between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, we will be engaging our community at all levels, building prosperity by sharing the story of our region’s tech successes, educating our youth and adults, and working to level the playing field for all.

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I’m pleased to note that I presently sit on UWaterloo’s Women in Engineering committee as an alumna member, and am so impressed with the work Mary Wells and her team are doing to improve the numbers of women in the field. This year a record 27% of incoming first year engineering students were female. I look forward to what the future holds, both here and around the world.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, or chat with anyone interested about what we are building – please connect with me online at @srozek or via email -