Building support for women and non-binary students in computer science

Friday, October 23, 2020

Creating a sense of belonging is something we’ve been talking about a lot about at the Wellness Collaborative. Our university community has been working tirelessly to support a largely virtual Fall semester, while welcoming new students to our community! One of these initiatives is Women in Computer Science (WiCS) at UWaterloo. They have been working very purposefully for over a dozen years to positively impact belonging, and ultimately the wellness, of female and non-binary Computer Science students. We interviewed Rae Samuel, the Outreach Coordinator for WiCS to learn more about the work they’re doing.


WiCS works to support the success of students who identify as woman and non-binary in Computer Science at the University of Waterloo. This initiative started with an evaluation of equity in the Cheriton School of Computer Science. The program brings together students, faculty, staff and corporations to highlight research and career interests in computing, while preparing students for the workforce. An important component of the program is peer mentorship. Rae’s role in the program is to engage elementary and high school students in computer science, to get them exploring and considering possible educational and career opportunities in STEM fields.

In preparation for the Fall term, WiCS undergraduate students took the initiative to engage incoming students through social media and online events, given that they didn’t have the opportunity to participate in the typical orientation and Faculty 101 days this year. Recently, WiCS hosted a workshop on Unconscious Bias in the workplace to develop allies in different spaces at UWaterloo – while investigating the intersectionality of gender, sex and race. Rae explained that

"you can see the community being built through these events and the students are really valuing that community and support.” Working together to create networking and professional development opportunities and workshops has been so impactful.

By creating a community of support, students have begun to feel a stronger sense of inclusion within the program and have also been able to provide space for other students and incoming students to feel the same. One of Rae’s takeaways is the value of being responsive to needs you’re hearing from your students. If there’s a need, take the time to learn more about it and work together. That work is always worth the impact!