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Dal’s Women in Technology Society opens doors for Bachelor of Computer Science student

Posted by Sal Sawler on November 22, 2023 in community, Students
Bachelor of Computer Science student, Eliza Fraser (Photo by Nick Pearce).
Bachelor of Computer Science student, Eliza Fraser (Photo by Nick Pearce).

Eliza Fraser wants to make the world a safer place, and she plans to use her cybersecurity skills to do just that. Now in her fifth year at Dal, Fraser started studying computer science straight out of high school. She had no previous programming or coding experience, but she “loved it from day one.”

Her interest in cybersecurity blossomed when she took a network computing class with Dr. Srinivas Sampalli. The class expanded the way Fraser thought about her relationship with computer technology. “I’m thinking about technology in a broader sense, like how the internet works and grows,” says Fraser. “That was something that we talked about a lot in class, and I really enjoyed thinking about technology outside of just my computer, my laptop, my website, or my app.”

Once Fraser began thinking about the wider world of the internet and how our digital footprints interconnect and overlap, cybersecurity became a natural area of focus. “I’m really passionate about programming and all the things that I do in school,” she says. “But cybersecurity has such an important impact on the community and technology users.”

A place to belong

Despite her interest in computer science, it took Fraser time to find her footing in the program – especially since the pandemic hit halfway through her first year, making it difficult to find community. Fortunately, she heard about the Women in Technology Society (WiTS) — one of several donor-supported initiatives for students from demographics that are underrepresented in the field of computer science. She attended a few meetings, but she didn’t know anyone yet, and it took her some time to get over her initial shyness. When she started her third year, however, she officially joined the society as the events and social representative, and everything shifted.

“It helped me get to know the other girls on the council,” says Fraser. “I also gained a strong network of support in the faculty. My grades went up so much when I started getting involved. Having friends in class and meeting professors outside of the classroom really helped me become more confident. I was less afraid of asking questions or going to the learning center.”

The following year, Fraser became the president of WiTS. “That was also a really great experience,” she says. “It helped me learn more about all the opportunities within the faculty. And there are so many, from conferences and Industry Panel Nights to scholarships.”

Fraser recalls one panel, featuring Sarah Dueweke from Dash Hudson, Kate Campbell from RBC, and Brittany Carter (BSc’16, BEng’19) from Labatt, as being particularly inspiring. “That night was about co-op interviews,” she said. “It was the first time I’d actually connected with women in the industry outside of an interview, so that was really special. It was a great experience, and it helped me understand what they were looking for in co-op students.”

Fraser’s made good use of the information she learned that night – she’s now done two co-ops with Intact Financial Company, and she’s in the middle of a third with the Government of Canada.

Community + confidence = increased opportunities

WiTS also led Fraser to apply for a $10 thousand scholarship. She remembers seeing it advertised in her third year, but didn’t yet have the confidence to apply. In her fourth year, however, her role as president required her to spend more time with faculty and staff — including the student engagement officer who encouraged her to try for the scholarship.

“My work with WiTS definitely gave me the confidence I needed,” says Fraser. “And because I was connected with staff and faculty, I was less afraid of asking questions, which made it feel like something I could apply for.” Fraser was awarded the scholarship, which is funded by the Leacross Foundation, in April 2023. This, alongside wraparound supports and programming intended to champion the next generation of female tech leaders in the Faculty of Computer Science, has had a profound impact on her.

Fraser speaks passionately about how WiTS impacted her university experience and her future in cybersecurity. “My time at Dalhousie has been enriched through community funding,” she says. “It’s helped me grow into a more dedicated and passionate student and community member – and I hope to give back to this community one day.”