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March 11, 2022

Highlights from a recent event held for first-year women students and students from other under-represented groups in the faculty. Dean Mina Hoorfar (top right) addresses those gathered. Photos: UVic Photo Services

Friday, March 11 marked an event that was a “first” for our faculty but will certainly not be the last of its kind. I was honoured to host an evening for women, trans and non-binary students, who began their studies this past year here in UVic Engineering and Computer Science. Those in attendance, who included faculty members and community partners, shared experiences as students and former students in a discipline where men still vastly outnumber women.

Women make up approximately 19 per cent of the student population at UVic Engineering and Computer Science, a figure similar across most schools in North America. When women are advancing in every other profession, engineering thus far has fallen behind. How can we ever create change when there are so many voices missing from the table?

As a result, our faculty has joined Engineers Canada’s 30 by 30 movement, aiming to raise the percentage of newly licensed female engineers to 30 per cent (viewed as the tipping point for sustainable change) by the year 2030.

I wanted this event to be an opportunity for women and others from under-represented groups in engineering and computer science to come together as a community, get to know one another and build a network. In disciplines as academically rigorous as engineering and computer science – where course loads are often prescribed with little room for electives and the content is curated to prepare students for a particular industry – retention is an issue.

As they join our faculty, not only do women students face the culture shock of a new campus – and for some, a new city or even country – but so often, they are one of the few women, perhaps the only woman, in their classes and labs. I remember my own time as a first-year student at the University of Tehran, feeling like an outsider in a male-oriented space. I was so intimidated I failed my first year. My only way back on track was through reaching out to the few other women students in my program, learning to watch out for and support one another.

I know personally how important it is to create space for women students – and students from other under-represented groups – to come together and create a community within the broader community of UVic Engineering and Computer Science. The feedback I have received to date from students has only made me more confident in the importance of holding this space.

Alongside targeted student awards, recruitment and career programs, creating opportunities for under-represented groups to come together and build a supportive community is key to student success. Greater diversity is how we enrich our learning community now and strengthen the talent pool for industry. Achieving the best engineering and tech solutions truly will take all of us. Together, we can do better.