CC 5.0 Women in STEM Spotlight: Anne Lavergne, SFU Faculty of Applied Sciences

April 18, 2017

At Creating Connections 5.0 our goal is to facilitate meaningful dialogue surrounding the participation of women and other underrepresented groups in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) in BC and the Yukon. We thought that there would be no better way to initiate this dialogue than by spotlighting some of our amazing local women in STEM and hearing their story of how they got to where they are now.

Today, we're spotlighting a faculty member from Simon Fraser University's Faculty of Applied Sciences, Anne Lavergne. She is a senior lecturer in SFU's School of Computing Science (CS), and the chair of the CS Diversity Committee, which aims to increase the number of women enrolling in CS programs at SFU and considering CS as a career. 

How did you end up pursuing a teaching career in STEM?

By taking the least straightforward path possible. :) 

Long time ago, in a land far away, I was a Fine Performing Arts student at a local Cegep (“college” in Quebec), studying drama, along with a gaggle of hodgepodge courses ranging from psychology to science to graphic design. Then life took me to Africa, where I studied African literature and masks. During this journey, I realized what a great asset multilingualism was, so upon my return to Canada, I moved to Vancouver for a total English immersion.

After a few years of various employments, and reaching a functional level in English, I resumed my academic studies. With a little help from my dad, I shifted my objectives from fine performing arts to applied science. Having my sights on the Engineering program at UBC, I started taking evening courses at a college to complete my first year science requirements. However, the last course I took, a computer science (CS) course (Introduction to Pascal), totally mesmerized me. I fell in love with the logical, yet creative process of developing software. I made a volte-face and headed for CS at SFU — at that time, the UBC CS program did not have a co-operative education option and since I needed to support myself through my academic career, the idea of co-operative education was very attractive.

After graduating from SFU, I worked as a software developer in a few places, and one of them was a community college. Part of my job was to instruct staff on using office-related applications. Teaching had always been something I wanted to do, so the thought of combining CS with teaching emerged then. However, I had to shelve the idea of teaching for a while as life, once again, propelled me onward. This time I found myself in Singapore working as an IT manager, then as a business analyst for one of the overseas banks. After a few years in such positions, I decided to leave the managerial aspect of IT and reconnect with its technical side by enrolling in graduate school. I landed in the CS department at UBC and upon graduation, I commenced my CS teaching career, first as a contract lecturer at UBC, and then as a teaching faculty member at SFU.

What is one change you think you should be made in your field, or to society as a whole, to increase the number of women in Computer Science?

First, let’s have a look at one of the changes that may soon be happening. In her book “A Practical Guide to Gender Diversity in Computer Science Faculty," Diana Franklin argues that, even though girls and boys obtain similar scores in high school math and science courses, there exists a gap in confidence level and risk-taking ability that puts girls at a disadvantage. Therefore, when the time comes to enroll in university programs, girls have a tendency to gravitate toward subjects with which they are familiar, such as chemistry, biology, and math, since they have already gained confidence in their ability to succeed in these subjects, hence keeping the risk taking at bay. The author concludes that this is one of the reasons for the significant gender imbalance in student population at university in the fields of engineering and CS. However, this may be about to change, as the Government of British Columbia is introducing a CS curriculum at the high school level. Being exposed to CS courses in high school will increase girls’ familiarity with this subject, and their success in these courses may give them the confidence to pursue CS in university and perhaps consider a career in this field.

My opinion is that, for the above change to fully take place, our whole society will need to shift its attitude when it comes to gender roles. This is, no doubt, quite an endeavor, which must involve everyone: parents, educators, enterprises, government, etc. Perhaps we can start this shift in attitude by becoming aware of the views we hold about gender roles and asking ourselves if these views are justified. Whenever we find ourselves thinking, “a particular task would be better accomplished by a person of the other gender," let’s ask ourselves: is this a fact or a belief we have acquired from our society? If it is the latter, can we embrace a wider perspective on possible gender accomplishment? Changing our attitude in relation to gender roles will lead to healthier role models for girls, the kind that promote confidence and acceptance of one self: the “we can do it too” kind.

How is the CS Diversity Committee addressing the gender gap?

By aiming to increase the number of women enrolling in CS programs at SFU and considering CS as a career. To reach our aim, our project's objectives are to increase females’ exposure to CS and its role models. Examples of our projects include:

  • Highlighting the accomplishments of our female CS students, alumni, postdocs and faculty members.
  • Supporting the Women in Computing Science (WiCS) group in the School of Computing Science.
  • Offering, in association with the Faculty of Applied Sciences’ (FAS) Advancement Office, sponsorships to female CS students to various STEM and CS (diversity-related) conferences.
  • Supporting FAS outreach events for girls in elementary, middle and high school (e.g., the Technovation competition and summer camps).
  • Collaborating with K-12 teachers in relation to the delivery of the new ADST curriculum, focusing on gender-inclusive activities.

What do you like to do in your "spare" time outside of work?

When I am not sitting in front of a screen, I like to move: going hiking or snowshoeing in the mountains and pedaling around on my bike. I find being in the midst of nature very revitalizing.

Being an inquisitive person, I love discoveries, so travelling is another passion of mine. I travel to meet people and experience their culture, history, architecture, language, cuisine, etc. I also travel to go trekking in various parts of the world: Asia (Nepal), Europe (Pyrenees), and Africa (Kilimanjaro).

In my spare time, I also enjoy volunteering, both globally (lecturing in Uruguay) and locally (mentoring and instructing with Girls Learning Code, Ladies Learning Code and SFU-hosted Technovation workshops).

What are you looking forward to most about Creating Connections 5.0?

I am especially looking forward to being inspired: to meet participants that are in similar situations in regards to increasing their “diversity”. I am looking forward to listening to their experiences and sharing with them what our Diversity Committee is doing here at SFU’s School of Computing Science.

This type of “connecting” conference is great, yet we have to remember that the challenge for us is to find ways to reach everyone i.e., the people who do not come to such conferences, and communicate with them the advantages and issues related to diversity, and get them involved.

Wishing all participants a wonderful and fruitful conference!

If you would like to engage in dialogue surrounding the current state of women and other underrepresented groups in STEM or learn tips and skills that will help you succeed in your field, we encourage you to attend our upcoming conference, Creating Connections 5.0. At Creating Connections 5.0 we will be offering three tracks of programming for men and women at all levels of their STEM careers, including speeches from industry executives, hands-on workshops and networking opportunities. You can learn more about Creating Connections 5.0 here.