Experiences of Women Coding Classes for contemporary knowledge and equality (master and student perspectives) – Bigstage 01 2022
21 June 2022 | Start 13:55 CEST | SISSA Main Auditorium | |
BigStage 2022 overview
Involvement of girls in Stem and the current situation in Georgia.
Interview with Nana Dikhaminjia
Nana Dikhaminjia got a PhD in Applied Mathematics in 2014. She was working in the tech field since 2001 and covered a broad spectrum of areas, such as scientific computing, software development, geoinformation systems, EdTech, IOT, Healthtech, data analysis, etc. She worked 8 years for Geographic as a GIS expert, 4 years for ElectroCompatibiity Lab of Missouri University of Science and Technology as a Research Professor, 5 years at Ilia State University as a Professor of Computer Engineering and head of Computer Engineering programs, 2 years as Vice-Rector for Innovations and Science Popularization. She was teaching engineering subjects in San Diego State University-Georgia for 3 years. Currently, she’s with Alte University as a Director of Digital Transformation Center and California Chapter director for Globalize – an organization that aims to connect tech startups from Georgia with Georgian tech experts and investors living abroad.
She managed two scientific projects and participated in 10 large-scale research projects related to Applied Mathematics and Computer Engineering. Toolsets and algorithms that she helped to develop in EMC Lab and Clear Signal Solutions is used by several tech companies that are part of the EMC Consortium. Besides research, her projects cover developing Information Systems for several organizations in Georgia and assisting in developing Higher Education programs in ICT. She was a project manager, consultant, researcher, software developer or data analyst in more than 20 projects related to ICT and engineering. She presented her work in more than 30 conferences and she’s an author of 26 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals. She has designed and implemented several projects that educated or attracted to STEM more than 3000 Georgian school children and volunteered as a lecturer, mentor or judge in more than 60 hackathons, marathons, robotics, Tech education and entrepreneurship programs, startup contests and accelerators for schools, student parliament, community organizations, student clubs, women organizations, local initiatives, education organizations, teacher development organizations, Impact Hub, Ministry of Education, Georgia Innovation and Technology Agency, Rustaveli National Science Foundation etc. She is a member of several professional organizations, such as IEEE, AMS, Women in Engineering, Internet Society. She manages the Education and Science group of the Georgia Internet Society. For her outreach work she was awarded IEEE STEM Ambassador in 2021.
- Nana Dikhaminjia, Grace Hopper Award Winner 2022, Professor of Computer and Electronic Engineering
- Maia Simonishvili, Department of Science, Culture and Civil Education, National Parliamentary Library of Georgia, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)
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>> CHAIR: I would like to move on to the next part of the session, which will consist an interview about the experiences of women coding classes for contemporary knowledge and equality, and this interview will be held by Maia Simonishvili, and she will introduce her guest speaker. The floor is yours.
>> MAIA SIMONISHVILI: Hey.
(Audio quality too poor for captioning).
>> MAIA SIMONISHVILI: My first question, you are actually a refugee. You have really great experience because of (?).
(Audio quality too poor for captioning).
>> NANA DIKHAMINJIA: Thank you, I was muted. I couldn’t answer.
I think there is an echo.
It is very nice to be here and to talk about women in tech.
My story is similar to the story of 300,000 refugees. I was 15 when I had to leave my hometown and then my parent, they were mathematicians, I learned math in childhood and I decided to continue to learn, I have a Ph.D. in mathematics and in parallel I was working as a developer and we moved to the Missouri University of science and technology and I worked there for four years and returned to Georgia to develop computer engineering programmes in Georgia and I got to work with people that helped me to develop different programme force girls to attract more Women and Girls to tech.
>> MAIA SIMONISHVILI: (Poor audio quality)..
(Audio quality too poor for captioning).
>> A main barrier in this area starts with childhood. I was fortunate, my parents supported me. When I first encountered the stereotype and biases from society, it didn’t touch me deep because I already had self-confidence impacted by my parents.
Usually, during the year, I meet approximately 5, 600 school students and half of them are usually girls. When I talk to them, they still encounter a lot of stereotype. For example, math is not easy for girls, or that they would not be very good computer engineers and they should choose different higher education programmes and so on.
In this area, what helps a lot, it is specific programmes for girls. We got very good results, for example, with U.S. embassy funded engineering school for girls where 150 girls learned basics of electronics and coding. Each of them got items to continue to work on at home. This kind of programme, they also met a lot of role models because also in this field it is a big problem that we don’t have sufficient role models like women in engineering and tech or sometimes they’re not seen as male engineers. We need to connect girls with women in this field to show them that they can be successful and once they get this confidence, they will strive in this environment. This year, there was amazing techno-vati.
This new program in Georgia, it is a worldwide programme and this year, it was organized and half the women that participated finished were able to have an app to solve a local challenge. They learned coding apps and started some kind of projects to use to develop the apps to solve local challenges. The programmes help a lot, they push the girls to tech and it shows them that they can be very successful in this area. They can use the tech for their strengths and for the strengths of their community and to achieve better education and better gender inclusion.
>> MAIA SIMONISHVILI: Thank you very much.
It is very interesting, when you compare the situations, in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, what is the differences, if you know, with tech at play.
>> It is an interesting question. Unfortunately, we don’t have the exact data.
There is more better data in Armenia, but – in Azerbaijan, in Georgia, we don’t really measure this kind of thing very well. What I can look into, what I see, I’m looking over here, there is the IT programme, the higher education programmes in Georgia, like how many girls and boys are emitted, they’re choosing computer science, engineering, electrical engineering or other programmes.
What I see here in the last six year, there is a constant increase in the demand. Still, there is, for example, in biology, and this is well-known, in the whole world, it is not like where we talk about problems in women in STEM, biology is usually not involved in, biology we have even more girls involved than boys, but biotech programme, which is a very demanding now and it is high paying, and a lot of biotech start-up possibilities, there is very little amount of women.
I can’t really make good comparison because of the lack of data. By an approximate estimate, I think we’re in the same – we have the same data.
>> MAIA SIMONISHVILI: Okay.
What’s really interesting, I know many young girls that changed their profession during the pandemic. I know many young girls that began to study computer and coding during the pandemic because they see more sense in it. For myself, it was a first step in basic programming when I began during the pandemic. Is there some news in this direction? I know you won a prize this year, our congratulations, and could you tell us more about that? Tell us more about the prize, what it was for and why it is very important.
>> NANA DIKHAMINJIA: The Grace Hopper Prize was established by international organizations and by local sponsors, and some other enthusiasts and acknowledged the women who are – it has several nominations so, one of the nominations is ICT champion, whiffs awarded this year, and I feel very honored. Actually a lot of women are in tech in Georgia, they’re doing great job in promoting the field and also attracting the girls to that field.
So it also has nominations as emerging leader for young women who are promoting the field or doing research in the IT field, and also supporter like best gender inclusive companies, and this kind of thing.
It is very good.
Also pandemic, you mentioned how the pandemic pushed more girls to the tech, and it is not only about girls, the pandemic showed us that we don’t have any other ways of doing technology. Every area, every profession will need to know at least like basics of coding and understanding of data science. Everyone now is moving to tech. I think it had somehow this good influence.
>> (Speaker on mute)
>> MAIA SIMONISHVILI: I have to mention that I’m now the representative of the international Federation of Library association, and it would be very interesting to know how the general education can involve coding in programmes and what libraries may be doing to improve this situation? Thank you.
>> NANA DIKHAMINJIA: Of course, there are several initiatives now even from the Minister of Administration to promote coding in schools, they started to introduce this in the second and third grades coding on scratch and working on standards for 7th and 8th grade to have elective coding classes in different areas.
This will be good, we’re actually a little late with that, we should have started it 15 years ago. Still, there are good initiatives and fortunately we also have a lot of different international grants, for example, I was manager of the big project which brought into 100 Georgian public schools the coding classes and clubs. It is now 60 schools involved already, and 40 will be added starting in the next year. In total, it involves 100 schools.
The school students, the high school, they’re learning, it is either coding on python, for the development, for the web development, for the tech development, different areas.
They’re participating in the challenges.
For example, the summer clubs, the summer camp, boot camps for high schoolers, this is also useful. For libraries, libraries nowadays, the whole world, especially developing country, they’re becoming not only provider of the books, but also, like, communication and direction services. I think it will be very good if library would have some kind of opportunities to use robotic kits or computer classes for coding, and maybe we could develop some kind of programmes involving volunteer who is could teach the library users coding.
>> MAIA SIMONISHVILI: Thank you.
I can share the views that I’m now preparing project for two budget programming at the libraries, it is in the frame of CPG and the United Nations project. One who wanted to join us today, she has other circumstances now, she had told me that she met a lot of stereotype during the study and in the programme. I would ask you, what was the most evident stereotype you meet in your field? What do we have to overcome the most?
>> NANA DIKHAMINJIA: The worst thing is parents don’t think they should bring, like, you know, engineering toys or robotic toys for girls.
They don’t encourage girls to choose this kind of games or this kind of clubs.
That gives the message to them that they’re not as good as boys in engineering, first of all, and also we know that the interest of the children, usually developed where they’re not even in schools. It starts in preschool years. That’s where we need to work more.
If you go to any store, even in Legos started some actions, different toy stores had started in Europe and in U.S., that the toys should be mixed, right, they shouldn’t be shelves of girl toys and boy toys. It was very interesting interviews, work done in Georgia last year where parents were differentiating the books by colors. Of course it makes very incorrect – it gives very incorrect messages. Also a lot depends on the teachers at schools. They should not discourage girls from learning math and we need more gender inclusive books, we need to put more women role models in engineering in the books and to talk more about how girls can achieve the same in this area as boys.
>> MAIA SIMONISHVILI: It is true, I now understand the colors for children, if they like different colors, it could work very well. Thank you, Nana.
I would be happy to know if anyone has questions. Nana has great experience in this field and we want to share our knowledge with you.
Is there any questions?
>> CHAIR: Unfortunately, we cannot take questions at the time because it is the end of the session.
Thank you very much for your interesting engagement and we look forward to having this discussion further with you, of course, further online spaces but also beyond.
Thank you very much for your contribution.