Program puts women back in technology

by Stephen Forgacs
Staff writer

Women, who years ago may have passed up opportunities in computer science to raise families or pursue other careers, have gained an opportunity to participate in a unique program aimed at positioning them as leaders in the information technology industry.

Maria Klawe, a Computer Science professor and vice-president, Student and Academic Services, is trying to address the gender imbalance in the industry by drawing women back into information technology through an innovative program called Alternate Routes to Computing (ARC). The program is also aimed at top male and female university graduates with little or no computer experience.

"The information technology field is wide open with opportunities for women," says Klawe. "But many women who could be very successful in the field are deterred by the clear lack of female participation, and by the perception that careers in the field are available only to people who grew up with a keyboard at their fingertips and who learned to program as they learned to speak."

ARC is a joint program with Simon Fraser University and industry partners.

Beginning in September, 15 students will enter the program at UBC and another 15 at SFU. Students will spend the first eight months in first-year computer science courses followed by eight months in a paid work term in industry and a final eight months back in the classroom.

Throughout the program students will work closely with mentors and tutors. On completion, students will receive a post-baccalaureate degree and may choose to pursue graduate studies.

"We expect ARC graduates to take on a range of positions in the information technology industry from design to marketing. Employers are looking for people with skills beyond programming. Graduates from this program will emerge as leaders in the industry," says Klawe.

"People who choose to take the program will have to be motivated and hard-working. It will require an intense full-time commitment, but with a reduced course load and a lot of support."

ARC was developed under the Supporting Women in Information Technology (SWIFT ) project, which is supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council-IBM Chair for Women in Science and Engineering in B.C. and the Yukon -- held by Klawe -- and by the Vancouver Foundation.

The application deadline is May 15. For information on the program and how to apply, contact Grace Chen at 604-822-5693 or visit the Web site at