The University of Winnipeg and Ubisoft Winnipeg have teamed up to host a free summit celebrating women in tech.
The Nova: Ubisoft Women in Tech Summit, taking place Thursday, February 11, connects researchers,
For us, the first step has always been learning and understanding – why is that gap still there?
Signy Gerrard, Ubisoft Winnipeg
educators, and community members with a series of speakers and an inspirational keynote to understand barriers and empower women to pursue education and careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
The one-day summit is open to everyone and includes insight into all stages of development, from early childhood to middle years, secondary, post-secondary, and career-level.
Examining barriers and inspiring STEM careers
Representatives from The University of Winnipeg and Ubisoft Winnipeg have been discussing how to make this event happen for the past two years after a meeting between UWinnipeg’s Dr. Ken Reimer and former Ubisoft Winnipeg managing director Darryl Long in early 2019 spurred a series of conversations around inclusive education and the importance of attracting and retaining more women in STEM.
As the partnership between the University and leading video game developer grew, Reimer turned to his colleague Dr. Sheri-Lynn Skwarchuk for insight.
“I’m so grateful to her for sharing her expertise and showing me how she brings people from diverse groups together,” said Reimer.
Reimer and Skwarchuk prepared reports for Ubisoft examining gaps, barriers, and recommendations to inspire more girls and women to pursue STEM education and careers. From these reports, the idea to host a summit came to life.
Supporting numeracy learning
During this time, Skwarchuk was also completing pilot testing for Toybox, a research-based educational tool to improve children’s numeracy, literacy, and wellness. When Ubisoft Winnipeg heard about the initiative they jumped on board, volunteering their programmers to mentor a group of high school students to develop an app to make the Toybox program accessible to more families. Toybox is one of many Passion Projects that Ubisoft Winnipeg has partnered with Sisler High School on as part of a Ubisoft Winnipeg and Sisler Create Education Initiative.
Skwarchuk is thrilled that Ubisoft turned to The University of Winnipeg for help understanding the barriers and challenges facing women in tech.
“It’s important not to stereotype girls against tech. This isn’t just a UWinnipeg problem, it isn’t just a Ubisoft problem, it’s a society problem,” said Skwarchuk. “As an
inclusion professor, I find it encouraging that industry is inviting us to work with them to help solve this problem.”
Skwarchuk will be hosting a breakout session alongside Sarah Melo, an elementary school teacher who developed MeloMath4Kids to show kids (and their parents) how fun and easy math can be. Their presentation provides evidence-based suggestions for parents and caregivers to support numeracy learning and avoid gender stereotypes and negative comments about mathematics at early stages in order to support entry into STEM disciplines later in life.
Mentoring the next generation
UWinnipeg student Sidney Leggett will be co-hosting one of the breakout sessions alongside Dr. Nora Casson, associate professor and Canada Research Chair in Environmental Influences on Water Quality. The pair will share first-hand experiences of mentorship’s power to inspire women and other underrepresented groups to pursue STEM.
Leggett discovered her passion, and aptitude, for research while taking part in a Pathways to Graduate Studies mentorship program in 2019. The experience led to her acceptance in an astrophysics summer internship at Queen’s University and grew her confidence as a researcher.
“The mentorship I received in this program completely changed my perspective on University and my place in it,” said Leggett. “I was previously very timid and found it easy to doubt myself, but this experience gave me the confidence I needed to make new connections and push myself harder.”
Casson remembers the mentorship she received when she started her PhD.
“I have been really fortunate to have many excellent mentors throughout my career, who demonstrated not only how to be a good scientist, but also how to balance your work with other parts of your life,” she said.
Signy Gerrard, communications manager at Ubisoft Winnipeg, says encouraging women and girls to see a tech career as a place to excel has long been a priority for the studio.
“For us, the first step has always been learning and understanding – why is that gap still there?” she said. “We want this summit to create a space for active discussions between the researchers who have been looking at this problem and the community members like educators and employers who can put that knowledge into practice.”
The summit was originally intended to be an in-person event hosted on campus at The University of Winnipeg. Pandemic restrictions mean the event will be hosted virtually instead. The University of Winnipeg’s event and media services teams have spent many hours behind the scenes working with Ubisoft Winnipeg to bring the summit to life.
“The chance to work alongside the Ubisoft Winnipeg team has been very exciting,” said Evan Milejszo, UWinnipeg Media Services technician. “I think our team and the team over at Ubisoft have found a way to not only pull off a conference of this scope in a virtual space, but to make it fun and engaging.”
With inspirational keynotes and engaging discussions spanning early years to career, this is an opportunity to come together for discussion and seek concrete solutions to bridge the gender gap in STEM. Everyone is welcome and attendance is free, but pre-registration is required. Visit Nova: Ubisoft Women in Tech Summit to see the full program.