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By Adam Brayford Online Community Staff Writer

At a university where females represent 58 per cent of the student population, the SFU Computing Science department is at odds with its fellow disciplines of study. Indeed, for a program that arms its graduates with the savvy necessary to thrive in industries spanning Theoretical Computing to Artificial Intelligence, the presence of women falls alarmingly below the school-wide norm. However, answering calls from the industry to increase workplace diversity, SFU Computing Science students of the minority gender are gaining a reputation for success that rivals that of their abundant peers. Beating hundreds of applicants to be accepted to the three day Google Workshop for Women Engineers in Mountain View, California on February 21 - 23, 2008, Kate Tsoukalas, Brittany Nielsen and Angelica Lim have done just that.

Proving themselves leaders in their field, the SFU Computing Science enthusiasts answered Google's question of how they would design and implement a project using technology to impact the lives of women and girls. In addition, they were required to demonstrate a high level of academic success. Once they were selected from a lengthy list of candidates, the three SFU representatives were sent all-expenses paid to Google's Mountain View headquarters, also dubbed, the Googleplex.

Speaking of the workshops that she and her peers attended at the lavish headquarters, Tsoukalas remarks: "It was really nice to see the people who were giving talks - they were very young but accomplished of course, which kind of reinforced in me the notion that you don't have to wait forever to achieve your goals." Asked what types of topics were discussed at the event, she could not say - in adherence to strict confidentiality agreements. The Computing Science grad student earned her place at the conference for her depiction of a technology that would assist in the preservation of indigenous B.C. languages. Tsoukalas brought with her an extensive academic knowledge base, having completed her undergraduate degree at SFU back in 2003, as well as a Co-op semester at Business Objects.

Fellow Computing Science student Angelica Lim was similarly awed by her Googleplex experience south of the border. The undergraduate student who's idea to build a robot that cooks satisfied Google's push for women to 'think big', attested that "It was a truly amazing experience. I met brilliant women with doctorates, which was very inspiring." In describing the interior of the extravagant Googleplex, Lim notes that from the ceiling in the grand foyer suspends Spaceship One, a marvel of computing science that once flew into orbit around the earth - a sight to whet the appetite of any keen industry hopeful. The futuristic attraction is joined by a rare Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton: a testament to the lucrative success and alluring eccentricity of Google's founders. Suffice it to say, the Mountain View headquarters of Google is a sight to behold. For Lim, the experience ranked up high along with her exchange to the South of France, as well as her Co-op semesters with SFU Computing Science and Chevron.

Along with their peer Brittany Nielsen, the Computing Science enthusiasts had a whirlwind adventure with Google. Over the course of their three-day stay in California, they were party to a number of workshops and networking opportunities that found them meeting not only with women from Princeton, Harvard and the University of Toronto, but also the highly successful Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google. Being treated to a volley of elaborate meals was also a bonus.

Tsoukalas and Lim strongly encourage female prospective students to consider Computing Science, regardless of their skill level, noting that the SFU program delivers a thorough grounding in the discipline to students of all levels. Despite reluctantly admitting to a fondness for the late Star Trek saga, both persuaded students considering the program to keep in mind that it is a highly dynamic field that defies common stereotypes. As Tsoukalas notes, "People think: computers... coding... boring! However, Computing Science is all about real-world scenarios. We just happen to have the skills to translate them into computing language."

Beyond The Article

Be bold! Consider taking courses with SFU Computing Science

Posted on January 04, 2011