Meet the Amazing womENcourage Local Organizers

Tiziana Catarci and Paola Velardi

This month we interviewed the local organizers of the womENcourage 2019, Prof Tiziana Catarci and Prof Paola Velardi from La Sapienza University. Their radiating energy and creativity are captured in these fascinating portraits by Gérald Bruneaux courtesy of Fondazione Bracco.


Tiziana Catarci graduated from Electronic Engineering in February 1987 at the University of Rome La Sapienza, where she received her PhD in Computer Science in October 1992. Since November 2000 she is a Full Professor of Information Processing Systems. For many years Prof Catarci has been actively involved in gender issues in the STEM subjects and the spreading the STEM culture among girls. For these activities, she won an award from Levi Montalcini Association in 2017.


Paola Velardi is a Full Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Roma “La Sapienza”. She received her “Laurea” Degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Roma “La Sapienza” in 1978. Her research interests include Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning, and the Semantic Web. With her inspirational work, Prof Velardi aims to debunk the myth that computer science is a man-oriented and “inflexible” discipline.

Why is the conference important to you?

Despite the various initiatives undertaken in recent years, the results in terms of attractiveness of IT for girls are still disappointing. It is necessary to do more, change the mentality, make people feel that IT is cool and it is not for the geeky few but it is the future. ACM womENcourage is in this direction and will be a terrific event.

Additionally, the motivation for this conference, to attract more girls in computer science and to support women who choose a career in the IT sector, is a very important one. For many years both of us have been involved in gender projects, dedicated to encouraging more girls to undertake studies in computer science. As stated in many studies, if the number of women who embark on a career in computer science could be equal to that of men, it would create an annual EUR 16 billion GDP boost for the European economy. Moreover, information technology is revolutionizing all technological, scientific and social fields: it is not conceivable that women exclude themselves from this revolution. Generally speaking, ICT has a transformative power and could act as catalyst for women empowerment.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

We are scientists, we like studying, facing new problems (and possibly contribute to solve them), we like the interdisciplinary nature of our field of study, being able to collaborate with other scientists, companies, policy makers.  We aim at giving our small contribution for a better world. We love being surrounded by young people, students, graduate students, researchers, and to disseminate the passion for science, research and advancement among them. Of course, we would much prefer more gender balanced classes and team work.

We also like new challenges, and being local organizers of ACM womENcourage 2019 is definitively an interesting one.

What would you want the participants to learn from your keynote speech or the conference in general?

The conference has a rich program with many different events, and any of these events can teach something. By participating in the hackathon, girls will learn teamwork, creating new concepts and ideas, networking and competition. The career fair will offer the opportunity to meet companies and train at job interviews. Presenting a poster will train them to present their work in a synthetic and effective way. Keynotes and interdisciplinary research tracks (a new feature introduced this year) will give the opportunity to be inspired by prominent speakers and be introduced to new interdisciplinary research areas. As a general return, we would like girls to bring with them the message that IT is a formidable tool for solving problems and contributing to the progress of humanity, as well as something fun and terribly cool.

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