Leacross Foundation helps female-identifying computer science students lead the way
By: Rebecca Rawcliffe
The Leacross Foundation’s partnership with the Faculty of Computer Science’s WeAreAllCS initiative provides important supports to help female-identifying students realize their potential.
Dalhousie computer science student Anaik Chacon feels strongly about being part of a community that strives to empower those from underrepresented groups.
“I try to be involved in anything that relates to empowering women in STEM fields and WeAreAllCS focuses on the problems, challenges, and biases that women face,” she says. “I want to always keep educating myself about these issues and I want to be part of the driving force that aims to solve these issues.”
Chacon has had the opportunity to do just that through an emerging program in the Faculty of Computer Science.
The Leacross Foundation is a not-for-profit organization committed to educating women and children in society with a focus on providing opportunities for training at accredited institutions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
Over the past two years, the Leacross Foundation has gifted more than $200,000 to the Faculty of Computer Science’s WeAreAllCS initiative to increase diversity in computer science through scholarships and programming that support the attraction and progression of female-identifying students.
Along with providing entrance scholarships, the Leacross Foundation’s funding has supported scholarships for female-identifying students in their third and fourth years of study.
The scholarships include wrap-around supports like industry mentorship, part-time work opportunities, and new professional growth opportunities through workshops facilitated by the Canadian Centre for Women in Science, Engineering, Trades and Technology (WinSETT). In total, more than 100 students have benefitted from this enhanced support.
Opportunities for leadership
Chacon says she feels fortunate to be part of the Leacross Leadership Program that provides her with a support network and important connections.
“I think programs like these are important because of the different types of support they provide,” she says. “Any financial assistance is always extremely helpful and should not be overlooked. Additionally, having the support your mentor provides can give you so much confidence and will help you through your student life and future career. Leadership is such an important skill to cultivate and share, so having a program that is almost wholly dedicated to it is very significant.”
Bachelor of Applied Computer Science student Julia Embrett is WeAreAllCS’ mentorship coordinator. Thanks to the funding provided by the Leacross Foundation, she is paid to do this alongside her studies.
“The Leacross Leadership Program demonstrates a commitment to helping women realize their full potential,” she says. “Students will be able to carry what they have gained from these learning experiences with them beyond graduation and go on to represent themselves well in the workplace.”
Embrett says she recognizes how important programming like this can be in empowering those who may not have historically seen themselves in computer science. As someone who came from an arts background, she notes her introduction to STEM allowed her to expand her skillset in creative ways.
“I was initially worried that there wouldn’t be a place for me when I began my undergrad in a completely different discipline,” Embrett says. “However, I was pleasantly surprised at how broadly the computer science industry reaches, and that creativity is just as valued as logical problem solving. I felt very encouraged by the faculty’s efforts to promote the WeAreAllCS initiative, because I not only get to share my own ideas, but I get to work with and hear ideas from other people from all walks of life.”
A proud partnership
Roslyn Bern, President of the Leacross Foundation, says she is motivated to give to institutions like Dalhousie to make a real impact on the success of female-identifying students in areas such as technology where they may not see themselves represented.
“It fascinates me that when computers began to be integrated in our society, the idea of technology didn’t have a gender bias,” says Bern. “Programs like WeAreAllCS would have been unnecessary, but somehow talented girls and women were passed over due to biases and lack of supports.
“As we talk about supply chains, it is necessary to focus on the education of youth to secure a vibrant and interactive diverse engagement in the programming of our technology,” she continues. “It is with this in mind that our foundation looks at the supports necessary to ensure the success of all candidates, and to move the needle on the number of female students in computer science and leadership. We are proud to have worked with Dalhousie to develop programs that support female-identifying students by providing mentorship support, leadership skills, and opportunities for engagement in the industry.”
Following the success of the Leacross Leadership Program for female-identifying students, the Faculty of Computer Science is using this model to increase supports for students from other groups that have been historically underrepresented in computing, particularly African Nova Scotian and Indigenous students. In an increasingly digital world, the hope is for partnerships like these will empower tomorrow’s leaders.