University of Canterbury engineering

Equal access

The University of Canterbury’s Engineering Faculty has a strong focus on teams and supporting diversity in computer science degrees.

No matter what they’re working on, whether it’s creating games and apps or providing support for an IT network, computer scientists need to come together as a team, says Professor Tim Bell at the University of Canterbury (UC) in Christchurch.

“Diverse teams are highly valued because this leads to better products that represent the diversity of customers who will be using the software,” Tim says.

Two groups which are still under-represented in the technology field are young women and students from Māori and Pasifika backgrounds.

So UC is committed to advancing the education of students of Māori and Pasifika backgrounds.

UC now offers six engineering scholarships ranging from $1000–$5000 to Māori and Pasifika students.

Increasing a student’s confidence in their identity and abilities is another way to help boost diversity in the technology areas of study.

“A large part of the problem here is the ongoing stereotype of who a computer scientist is,” says Jill Pears, a doctoral candidate at UC who is researching ways to encourage girls into computer science.

She suggests something as innocent as a Star Trek poster on a computer classroom wall can make a girl feel as if computing isn’t for her.

“Early exposure can influence a student’s concept of self and they may be more likely to see themselves as a ‘computer scientist’,” Jill says.

Computer Science (BSc) student, Toni James, runs the UC club Computer Chicks (pictured above), which provides support for women in computer science.

“My five-year-old daughter asked me what a software engineer was,” Toni says. “When I told her I could make the games she loves to play on her iPad, her response was: ‘Can I be a software engineer?’

“We need supportive environments,” Toni says. “With Computer Chicks, we meet up for a free coffee provided by our sponsors, and have time to connect and support each other.”

– Mike McRae

TO GET THERE: Computer Science and Software EngineeringEngineering scholarships, UC Engineering
Diverse teams

“Diverse teams are highly valued because this leads to better products that represent the diversity of customers who will be using the software.”

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