Paying it forward for the next-generation of women in computing
By Beth Gallagher. This article was originally published in the Global Impact Report.
Keer Liu was 18 years old when she left China to study computer science at the University of Waterloo with a dream of becoming a leader in the tech industry. She wanted an exceptional foundation in computing but her real dream has always been to lead.
This year, Liu will have an undergraduate degree in Computer Science, experience building a successful startup with her classmates, and six co-op work terms at some of the world’s best-known technology companies.
Working in companies such as Apple, Uber, Slack and Coinbase transformed her education, but Liu says the connections she made — and the female role models she met — while working in an industry still dominated by men have inspired her to not only lead but to build bridges for other young women in computing.
“I was able to get a co-op term with Apple on the basis of a recommendation from my supervisor at Slack,” Liu says, who starts full-time at Apple after graduating. The recommendation came from a female engineering colleague. Liu says the experience of reporting to three women during co-op terms in San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver shaped her vision of leadership.
“Female software engineers and managers have empathy for younger women just entering the field,” Liu says. “They have the engineering skills but they also know how to mentor young students like me. I want to be able to do that for others.”
The power of a network of women in tech
For Liu, the power of connection and community started early in her studies when she became involved in the Women in Computer Science group in Waterloo’s Faculty of Mathematics. There she was introduced to other women studying computer science who shared their own stories of experiencing unconscious bias, feeling like imposters in the workplace, and the fear of speaking up in meetings. Liu, who speaks three languages, said she had to push herself to be more assertive, in part because she was a woman, but also because English is her third language.
According to Statistics Canada, only 18 per cent of people working in engineering or computer and information systems jobs are women. In the U.S., software developers, with a median annual wage of $103,000, continue to be in high demand but only 18 per cent of those jobs were filled by women in 2017.
The disparity persists despite research that shows diverse teams perform better. A recent analysis by McKinsey & Company found that organizations in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 per cent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. In the case of ethnic and cultural diversity, McKinsey’s 2020 report, Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters, found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity outperformed those in the fourth quartile by 36 per cent in profitability.
As of fall 2019, women represented 36.5 per cent of the undergraduate population in the Faculty of Mathematics and 24.4 per cent in the David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science. At the graduate level, these numbers are 32 per cent and 18.9 per cent respectively. These percentages have been increasing over the past decade, thanks in large part to the work of Women in Computer Science (WiCS), Waterloo Women’s Impact Network (WWIN), the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing (CEMC) and Women in Mathematics (WiM).
An aspiring female entrepreneur
Part of Liu’s journey at Waterloo included time on Tutturu, a startup that won $50,000 in the University of Waterloo’s Velocity Pitch competition in 2020. Liu is currently supporting the Tutturu team as a marketing lead but the time she spent learning to pitch an idea and the connections she made with other entrepreneurial students in Velocity has expanded her network. Beyond the Velocity community, Liu met other students interested in starting ventures in an entrepreneurship course offered through Waterloo’s Conrad School of Entrepreneurship and Business.
Liu is taking everything she’s learned about entrepreneurship into another role as fellow for MiraclePlus, an incubator based in China. She is building connections between people with promising startup ideas in Waterloo and MiraclePlus, the incubator founded by global tech leader Lu Qi, the former chief operating officer at Baidu and a former executive vice president at Microsoft.
As an international student, Liu hopes to continue to build a global community of women and other marginalized groups who are as passionate about tech and transforming the world as she is. “I’ve watched women who lead and they really know their engineering and computing, but they are also very smart about building teams. My dream is to one day be as good as they are.”
Registration open for advisor conference
A message from the Academic Advising Community of Practice.
Registration is now open for the seventh annual University of Waterloo Advisor Conference.
This year’s conference, organized by the Professional Development Working Group of the Academic Advising Community of Practice, is appropriately themed The Challenge of Change. Advisors will connect virtually April 15 and 16 to share information and receive updates from student services and campus partners that will enhance the vital advising they provide Waterloo students.
Some Conference highlights will include:
- Rashelle Litchmore on Supporting BIPOC Students
- Andy Thibodeau on Initiating Inclusion by Invitation
- Failing to Flourishing: Strategies for Fostering Resilient Learners
- Cultivating Leadership and Confidence Through the Student Leadership Program
- Supporting Student Thriving in Co-op
If you advise undergraduate or graduate students here at Waterloo, be sure to register by March 31 in UWaterloo Portal.
History that is hot to the touch
This is an excerpt of an article originally published on Waterloo Stories.
When Hossam Bakir (MHE ’20) was working as a medical director in an upscale overseas hospital several years ago, he saw first-hand the prejudices that some top-level administrators exhibited toward Black doctors, and he took steps to stand up for the right for everyone to feel safe at work.
Today, he’s at the University of Waterloo, still working toward making the world a more equitable place in terms of race, among other things.
“This type of work is woven in my structure and DNA,” Bakir says. “I genuinely believe that racism, a social construct, only drags nations to the bottom of history. Converting skin colour and 0.1 per cent genetic differences into social hierarchy prevents nations from utilizing all inborn and gained powers and capabilities for their development and instead of using it in various forms of destruction of civilizations.”
Bakir leads the Mental Health, Ableism and Accessibility committee of the School’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) group, which makes recommendations to university administrators on mental health for BIPOC students. He is also a member of the President’s Anti-Racism Taskforce (PART) at Waterloo, and volunteers with the International Coaching Federation, offering pro-bono coaching to marginalized individuals and new immigrants.
“I see very little education to the younger generations about the history, damages and drawbacks of racism and values of equity and diversity,” Bakir says. He’s hoping to start a PhD in Public Health and Health Systems next year and plans to work in the field creating educational material for students and staff “so that younger generations grow up genuinely convinced that racism is a curable disease.” He also wants to work on mitigating the manifestations of racism through equitable policies and robust complaint-management systems.
How will he know when his job is done? “When we stop hearing, ‘That was not my intention’ as a reply from an offender who showed signs of micro-aggressions,” Bakir says. “And when we replace hatred with acceptance of what is different and start to look at opportunities instead of obstacles.”
RAISE the bar
Fiqir Worku (BSc ’19) was enrolled in the Health Studies program when she began to create spaces for racialized students on campus. This work led her to found Racial Advocacy for Inclusion, Solidarity and Equity (RAISE), the first student-run service at the University dedicated to addressing racism and xenophobia.
“Because of my activism work, I was also awarded the Lincoln M. Alexander community award – a prestigious provincial award given to one young person who shows strong leadership and has done significant work in addressing racial discrimination,” Worku says. “In the last year of my undergraduate career, I also conducted an honours thesis examining the impact of racism on the mental health of radicalized students.”
She is now pursuing an MSc in Health Services Research at the University of Toronto and works as a research assistant at St. Michael’s Hospital. “We explore Black people’s experiences with HIV/AIDS and are working on a province-wide study examining the experiences of COVID-19 on the Black community’s access to health care,” explains Worku.
She is also an advisory member of the African, Caribbean, Black (ACB) Network of Waterloo Region, working on advocacy initiatives to educate the community about what defunding the police could look like.
She says COVID-19 has made it more difficult to celebrate and engage with her community in the same way she typically would during Black History Month.
“This year has made it more evident to institutions that they need to step up when it comes to anti-Black racism and that work can begin by decolonizing our education system and incorporating Black and Indigenous thought into our pedagogy,” Worku says. “But I am hopeful for what’s to come.”
Senate meets today and other notes
The University's Senate meets today at 3:30 p.m. on Microsoft Teams. Among the agenda items:
- A motion to approve the membership of the Policy 76/Policy 77 Drafting Committee;
- A motion to approve members of the Distinguished Teacher Awards Committee and the Amit and Meena Chakma Awards for Exceptional Teaching by a Student Committee for 2021;
- A motion to approve proposed changes to the Doctor of Optometry Program;
- A motion to change the name of the Department of Kinesiology to the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences; and
- A motion to change the name of the School of Public Health and Health Systems to the School of Public Health Sciences.
Delivering a teaching presentation will be Su-Yin Tan, Teaching Fellow from Environment, and Donna Ellis, the Director of Centre for Teaching Excellence.
"Peter Briant, Parking Services Technician, is retiring after 31 years of dedicated service on March 1st, 2021," says a note from Parking Services. "We wish him and his family well in his retirement. Please forward any well wishes to email@example.com in lieu of a retirement event as we continue to operate remotely."
"Want to earn a $5 Tim Horton’s gift card for your opinion?" asks the Writing and Communication Centre. "The WCC is now seeking only graduate students who have, and have never used our services to participate in our online focus group to give us feedback. If interested, please sign up on Qualtrics. The deadline to sign up is February 26 at 11:59 p.m.
Plant Operations has announced a shutdown of domestic hot and cold water in room 1105 of Engineering 3 on Monday, March 1 from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. to facilitate the removal of a kitchenette.
There's still time to register for the Centre for Bioengineering and Biotechnology (CBB)'s Ideation Challenge in partnership with the Praxis Spinal Cord Institute. The Praxis SCI Ideation Challenge is a new program "designed to support transformative commercializable concepts to improve the quality of life of people living with #SpinalCordInjury." You can register for the live launch on February 22 from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and contact firstname.lastname@example.org for support forming your team.
In the same vein, there's still time to register for the upcoming Employee Wellness Session: COVID-19 – Calming Your Mind in Challenging Times offered by the Employee and Family Assistance Plan and Homewood Health. The workshop will take place on Thursday, February 25 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon. Registration closes today.
The UW Black Faculty Collective and the Canadian Black Scientists Network are co-hosting a new virtual seminar series that will highlight Black STEM in Canada. The first event will be this Thursday, February 25 at 2:30 p.m. Professor Lawrence (Larry) Goodridge from University of Guelph will present on “My bacteria has a virus! The use of bacteriophages to develop new antibacterial drugs”.
Please register for the event on the Black Faculty Collective website.