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Empowering girls in STEM

Last week, I wrapped up the ICS2O – Technovation course for girls. I am a teacher at the Faculty of Engineering (Outreach) at the University of Ottawa and ICS2O is a credited high school course offered in collaboration with Technovation Ottawa.

Technovation is the world’s largest global tech entrepreneurship competition for girls, in which they will use the skills acquired in this course to build a business plan and mobile app that will address a community problem.

Despite the pandemic and the challenges encountered, the girls aged 10 to 18 were motivated to learn and improve their skills. Each one of them worked incredibly hard for five months to design their business plan, to build a fully functioning app and record pitch videos for their applications. I could not help but be inspired and impressed by the creative ideas they had, the great questions they asked and the leadership skills they practised.

But what impressed me the most was their commitment to finding solutions to world problems and the apps they built through this course.

The gender gap in STEM fields has been extensively researched and proven. There are a multitude of factors causing this gap, but one issue lies in the disproportionate number of girls enrolling in STEM-related post-graduate studies compared to the number of boys that choose to pursue STEM fields.

For one, the role models working in STEM that we present to young kids and teenagers are more often represented by males. We also often hear that girls tend to be more interested in people while boys seem to be more interested in things.

Whether the latter is true or not, one thing is for sure: the Technovation course was an incredible way to demonstrate to young girls that technology can be more than just coding and computers. Tech fields, like other STEM fields, have the potential to help people. And that is exactly what they achieved through the course.

Not only were they given the opportunity to meet strong women leaders from all parts of industry, listen to their experiences and learn from them, they met girls from different schools and discussed and exchanged ideas together.

The Introduction to Computer Studies – ICS2O (Technovation) course has just wrapped up for 2021, but registrations are now open for 2022. High school girls wanting to participate in the course can register here and you can learn more about the course and about the Faculty of Engineering Outreach initiatives for girls and high school students here.

It is but one example that demonstrates uOttawa’s Faculty of Engineering’s commitment to creating an inclusive environment where girls and women can make a difference. This is, and will continue to be, reflected in the diversity of the people the faculty hires, the programs they offer as well as the projects they work on.

The faculty believes that equity, diversity and inclusion enriches students’ experiences by exposing them to different mindsets, challenging stereotypes and enabling students to see themselves as leaders.

Creating opportunities for girls in STEM at a young age is so important in our efforts to bridge the gender gap in these fields. In the end, these girls were all happy to have benefitted from the program and to have developed great skills and knowledge. What they ultimately walk away with is confidence in themselves and their abilities.

Najah El-Gharib is a senior associate with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). She is a member of the OneAnalytics team working on building data, analytics and AI solutions. El-Gharib is also pursuing her PhD in digital transformation and innovation at the University of Ottawa. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science from the same university where she also received her master’s degree in 2019. Since 2016, El-Gharib has been involved with several organizations in Ottawa and nationally to teach high school girls computer science and inspire girls to take a STEM education. She has been a Technovation mentor since 2019 when she started teaching the ICS2O course for high school students.