The Beginnings – Dreams Come True

This year we are going to have the 10th womENcourage celebration, which will be hosted in Trondheim, Norway! We are so excited to share the journey we had so far and looking forward to bigger, greater and more exciting celebrations to come. We are acknowledging this milestone of 10 years with a series of blogs from past chairs who organized this event successfully so far. 

Let’s hear from Reyyan Ayfer who is the founder member of ACM-W Europe and womENcourageTM celebration.

I am looking at the website of the 10th ACM Celebration of Women in Computing womENcourage™’, which has the theme Computing Connecting Everyone, and it is very difficult for me to describe my feelings. Believe me, dreams come true, especially when you have the courage, energy, and will to make dreams come true and work with your team members who believe in your dream.

When my colleagues ask me how it all started, my answer is that my volunteer work for women in computing started 22 years ago when I realized that the number of female students was decreasing in my department, Computer Technology and Programming, at Bilkent University. I was curious about the situation in other countries, so I made a search and sent an email to the first related person I found. I was very happy to receive a response immediately:

That was also the time when I read “The Incredible Shrinking Pipeline” by Tracy Camp and realized that there really was a problem. That problem was not a problem of women, it was the whole world’s problem. In a field that was affecting our lives, diversity was a must.

With the hope that there could be something that I could do, I got in touch with Denise Gürer to learn more about the Ambassador program and became the ambassador for my country. 

I first met the ambassadors and ACM-W team at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2002, which was held in Vancouver, Canada.

Later on, the number of ambassadors increased. 

It was a pleasure to meet wonderful women from different parts of the world, share our experiences and the problems we face, and feel that we were not alone. Getting together and sharing was very valuable.

So, I decided to establish a student chapter at my university to bring together the women in computing who were minorities in their classes. It took a lot of time, but finally, we were able to establish the first ACM-W Student Chapter outside the USA. I am so honored to see the chair of 2008, Rukiye Altın, as the chair of ACM-W Europe now carrying the flag.

Bilkent ACM-W Student Chapter Meeting of the chair Rukiye Altın for “One Laptop per Child” Seminar in 2008.

My volunteer work for the Ambassador Program may be one of the reasons for being invited to become a member of the ACM Europe Council in 2012. At the first council meeting, I proposed to establish ACM-W Europe and accepted to take responsibility for becoming the first chair. My first goal was to bring European women in computing together to build a community to raise awareness. We started as a small team, and we had our first meeting on December 12, 2022. The outcome of the meeting was to decide our target group, goals, and activities.  

The first meeting of ACM-W Europe in Vienna, 2012.

Left to right: Pat Ryan, Cornelia Denk, Reyyan Ayfer, Eva Navarro Lopez, Vicki Hanson, Beryl Nelson

We decided that our initial target group would be the young women who are already in the field. Our main goal was to bring them together to inspire, motivate, and encourage them to stay in the field by organizing a European Celebration of Women in Computing. Our long-term goal was to make this celebration the premier Women in Computing Celebration in Europe. We were so lucky to have Eva, who had the courage to take the responsibility of organizing the first event at her university, the University of Manchester. 

Receiving our first one-page newsletter, Bev Bachmayer volunteered to work with us, and we felt ready to kick off. We were aware that the success of the first event was important for subsequent events. We started to reach out with the help of Lynda Hardman, the Chair of Informatics Europe Women in Informatics Research & Education (WIRE) group.

The name womENcourage was drafted in my notebook when Eva and I were in a taxi in Paris, listing the terms related to our goal like inspire, motivate, encourage, and seeing the terms womEN and ENcourage, we shouted “womencourage!” Thanks to Pat and Ruth for working hard to make it a trademark.

Organizing events like this, especially the first, is challenging.  Alongside the existing full-time responsibilities and unexpected life problems, the volunteer work to be carried on during the preparation period has been much more than we could think of. There have been times of desperation and frustration. From time to time, there have been misunderstandings due to a lack of continuous communication. However, despite the difficulties, we were able to move towards the goal and make it possible and successful.

We had to close the registrations for the first womENcourage ten days after the opening, and we had attendees from 30 different countries. The number of poster submissions and scholarship applications was more than twice what we could accommodate.

In addition to our speakers and supporters, I am especially thankful to all team members for their hard work, commitment, time and effort, wisdom, tolerance, and patience, making the first ACM-W Europe womENcourage Celebration of Women in Computing successful.  Eva for her courage to be the chair, Bev for working so hard with unlimited energy to provide the funding for travel grants, to have an up-to-date website, to outreach with newsletters and social media, for the lovely t-shirts and bags, and the red chair. Vicki for dealing with the registrations and updating us daily, in addition to her valuable advice when we needed her support. Veronica for taking the responsibility of student posters, which included lots of announcements, reviewing, and organizing. Beryl for coming from the USA just for the event to chair the inspiring panel and the unconference. Cornelia for enriching the event with her presentations, photos, and social get-together after the event. I took the responsibility of scholarships and was also the joker whenever someone had an excuse.

All the messages and posts of the attendees are indications of the very positive impact of the event. One student wrote that she was at the edge of quitting her Ph.D. studies due to insufficient funding, but attending womENcourage encouraged her to act immediately to find additional support. I am sure all attendees left Manchester with more hope for the future.

I am thankful to the wonderful organizers of the subsequent womENcourage events and the steering committee of ACM-WE. Their enthusiasm and hard work made it all possible. The success of all the womENcourage events, hearing the impact from attendees, and witnessing the 10th womENcourage is very promising for the future. Especially, seeing the attendees of the first womENcourage taking roles in the leadership positions of ACM-W and ACM-W Europe is very promising for the future. They are role models for future generations, and I believe that the attendees of the upcoming celebrations are going to be change agents of the future for a better world, especially for women in computing.

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