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Dr. Daniela Damian appointed ECS-CAPI Chair in Inclusive Science, Technology and Engineering

May 09, 2023



by Ivan Watson

Interdisciplinary, innovative and focused on furthering equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the STEM fields, UVic’s new ECS-CAPI Chair in Inclusive Science, Technology and Engineering is a key step forward in advancing university-wide values for the next generation of academic leaders and students.

“It is a recognition of UVic’s commitment to EDI and its leadership in increasing the participation and retention of women and other underrepresented minorities in science and engineering, as well as its global reputation and leadership in sustainability and UN Sustainable Development goals, especially related to gender equality,” says Dr. Daniela Damian, who was recently appointed to the new and prestigious Chair position. “Research has brought clear evidence that diverse teams are more creative, collaborative and develop products that better meet end users’ needs, when compared to homogenous teams.”

Damian has long been an advocate and champion for values-based education and for promoting inclusivity and social justice.

“Diversity alone is not the silver bullet. Solutions for an inclusive society can only be achieved by teams that are also inclusive of the multiple perspectives that characterize the needs of a sustainable society,” she says. “Yet, the engineering profession continues to be in a dramatic diversity crisis. Gender-based disparity remains despite efforts to attract and train more female professionals.”

According to Engineers Canada, women comprise only 22% of engineering undergraduates, specifically in areas such as biosystems and environmental engineering. In mechanical, software and computer engineering, women represent about 14% of students. Just 13% of licensed engineers in the country are women. Similarly, Indigenous students comprise only 1.2% of undergrad enrolment in Canadian engineering programs and Indigenous men are twice as likely to graduate from a science and engineering program as Indigenous women.

Taking the reins as the new ECS-CAPI Chair, Damian aims to change those numbers for the better.

“My vision is to change the culture in engineering where students in our faculty are motivated to join and pursue engineering because they feel empowered and supported in developing their capabilities to address problems that benefit our society, through access to and connections within an inclusive network of engaged academics, industry experts and community partners,” she says. ”­­­In particular, the INSPIRE Program that I lead aims to develop a supportive network that pairs mentorship and a focus on experiential learning and social impact with a long-term, enduring community of practice that will support women and underrepresented minorities at all phases of their careers. I aim to raise UVic’s profile in Canada and internationally as a place where inclusivity in the learning is as important as the technical, discipline-related skills they are developing.”

According to its mandate, the establishment of the Chair supports every one of UVic’s strategic priorities of cultivating an extraordinary academic environment, promoting sustainable futures, dynamic and experiential learning, fostering respect and reconciliation and engaging locally and globally. It aligns with UVIc’s aspirations of Societal Impact and Global Engagement, and will bring a significant contribution in four of the Aspiration 2030 Impact Areas: social justice and equity; technology and the human experience; health and wellness; and climate, environmental change and sustainability.

Damian’s research interests and expertise span the areas of collaborative and global software development, empirical software engineering, human-computer interaction, and requirements engineering. She sees a natural alignment with these areas and the mandate of the new Chair role.

“My research over the last twenty years has studied methods and tools to support geographically distributed software teams to develop high quality solutions that meet their customers’ needs,” she says. “Fundamentally empirical, my research in collaboration with large international development organizations has brought clear evidence that the quality of collaboration in these global teams directly relates to the quality of the products they engineer. Recognizing that these teams are diverse on many dimensions—cultural, gender, language and ethnicity—the quality of their collaboration in design is essentially an indicator of how inclusive these teams become in integrating different perspectives and experiences in the design process.”

Her research has provided insights into the dynamic intersection of technology, engineering and diversity.

“Nowadays, the technologies that our students are building are becoming much more integrated within our lives, our society, and cater to very diverse users,” she says. “The relationship between the quality of the engineered products and the engineering team is clear: the more diverse and inclusive the teams, the higher the chance their work integrates the perspectives of a diverse end-user base in our society.”

As a long-time UVic faculty member, Damian appreciates the university’s commitment to living its values around sustainability, EDI and gender equality.

“Creating pathways for students to thrive within inclusive learning environments at UVic requires a concerted effort from multiple disciplines beyond Engineering—Education and Social Sciences, Business, Entrepreneurship and Environmental Sciences, as well as Community-engaged research and learning. UVic has stellar, internationally recognized researchers in these fields, including some that I had enjoyed wonderful collaborations with in my twenty years at UVic. Enabling effective student engagement in team-based learning or effective solution co-design with communities is not new—the challenge lies in combining them in strategies that educate and empower our students so that they succeed and choose to continue the engineering professions,” she says “My love for working in diverse teams will extend to establishing inclusive research and education environments that leverage the different perspectives and research methods from the diverse relevant disciplines for the students’ benefit.”

Commenting on her work with INSPIRE, she notes: “In a very short time last year I had to establish my INSPIRE research and executive team in order to setup up the community-driven experiential-learning projects, the response I received from colleagues as well as undergraduate and graduate students who shared my vision and values for inclusive learning in our Faculties of Science and Engineering and Computer Science, has been overwhelming and strengthened my passion for UVic as the place to lead these efforts.”

The uniquely collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of the new Chair position, and specifically its connection with the Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives (CAPI) particularly appeals to Damian who is excited about possibilities for global interconnectivity and enhanced research capacity.

“The Chair position will increase international student mobility and outreach by extending the students’ engagement regionally, nationally and internationally in projects that target sustainability problems, as well as EDI-related initiatives,” she notes. “As a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives, I will capitalize on unique opportunities enabled by the Centre’s decades-long experience and established reputation in facilitating student mobility opportunities in and with Asia.”

Further underlining her collaborative approach, she aims to increase research capacity around issues of EDI and best practices by creating opportunities for studying existing barriers to inclusive learning and research environments in science and engineering.

“I will pursue research exchanges with the NSERC Chair in Women in Science and Engineering programs in Canada and with academic, industry and community partners in Asia,” she says. “The role of culture in how diverse engineering teams can become inclusive has been an under-researched topic. Yet, that aspect is growing in importance as our graduates will be working predominantly in global and multicultural teams.”

Looking ahead, Damian believes she will succeed as Chair by focusing squarely on students-- helping them to succeed and enabling them to achieve great things in an inclusive and globally-minded culture focused on real-world results.

“As much as I love my research, I thrive in the classroom. In particular, experiential approaches that involve tackling real-world, wicked problems have been fundamental to my teaching and are what drive my fulfilment in interacting with our students,” she says. “The students’ enthusiasm and learning, especially recently in the INSPIRE projects that engaged real-world, complex sustainability problems, have been remarkable and make me feel confident in the extraordinary journeys the Chair activities will offer to UVic students locally, as well as those participating from universities in Asia.”

The ‘ECS-CAPI’ Chair in Inclusive Science, Technology and Engineering is held in the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) and Centre for Asia Pacific Initiatives (CAPI) in collaboration with the Faculty of Science, and has four main objectives: to develop pathways for more women and other underrepresented minorities to enter and succeed in Science, Technology and Engineering; to increase the sense of belonging and to create a culture of inclusion; to increase research capacity around EDI issues and best practices; and to Increase international student mobility and outreach.