December 6 annual memorial on Mount Royal in Montreal. (Remi St-Onge Wikimedia)

December 6th anniversary and the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science

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December 6th memorial events are taking place across Canada on the day now known as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

In Montreal this evening, fourteen beams of light will illuminate the skies above Mount Royal, commemorating the women who were killed.

Each beam of light will be lit one at a time when the names of the 14 victims are called out during the ceremony.

The lights will shine between 5 pm and 10 pm.

It was 29 years ago that 25 year-old Marc Lepine roamed the halls of  l’École Polytechnique de Montréal with a hunting knife and a Ruger mini-14 semi-automatic rifle.

He separated the men from the women and when the rampage was over, he’d killed himself, and 13 female students and a female administrator at the school.

Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), Hélène Colgan (born 1966), Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), Maud Haviernick (born 1960), Maryse Laganière (born 1964), Maryse Leclair (born 1966), Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), Michèle Richard (born 1968), Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), Annie Turcotte (born 1969), and Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958) were the 14 women murdered at gunpoint.

Gina Cody received her Phd in Building Engineering from Concordia University in Montreal in that same year, 1989.

She remembers the night.

In an interview with Anna Maria Tremonti on the CBC Radio program, The Current today, when asked about it, Gina Cody took a few moments before responding: “It left a scar”, she said.

“But what I learned from that tragic experience is to look to the future.”

“Gina speaks loud and clear”

When asked about the women who were killed 29 years ago, Cody says “They have to be respected for who they were, and who they wanted to be.”

Gina Parveneh Baktash came to Canada from Iran in 1979 with $2000 (CDN).

This past September, with her married name, she made the largest endowment to her alma mater in its history.

December 6th 1989. left a scar says Gina Cody. Gina (Parvaneh Baktash) Cody, MEng 81, PhD 89 (photo courtesy of Concordia University)

The Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science at Concordia was created with $15 million (CDN).

She was adamant that “Gina” be included in the name of the school, to highlight her gender and increase the opportunities for women.

“Gina” was a nickname given to her as a baby, in the heyday of Italian movie star Gina Lollobrigida, who also had big beautiful eyes.

“It wasn’t about me really, all I wanted… was the identification of a faculty of engineering and computer science with a female, that’s what I cared for.”

“Gina speaks loud and clear” she said.

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Some current female students in the school told a CBC reporter they value the name: “Gina Cody is like a new definition for engineering now”, said one.

“The name Gina Cody means opportunities for women”, said another.

And still, Gina Cody laments the situation: “You cannot believe how many women have come to me and told me that they wanted to pursue engineering and their parents discouraged them. Even now”, she said.

“We are living in an era, we are in the fourth industrial revolution, where computer science, the internet of things, artificial intelligence, these are all replacing the old way of manufacturing and society is changing as a whole. And if women don’t get into computer science and engineering, we will be left further behind.”

Her work did not end with the donation to Concordia; when she sees her name on the school she says, “I think it puts more pressure on me to carry the message further”.

“As a woman, to be independent, you have to pursue higher education” her mother repeatedly told Gina and her older sister, as they were growing up with three brothers.

In describing herself as a “proud Canadian” and a “proud woman” Gina Cody explains: I’m an immigrant, so I’m also sending a message to immigrant people that we are contributors, we want to be good citizens, and giving back is part of our DNA, we just don’t take things for granted, we are grateful of the opportunities given to us, and we want to provide a platform for those coming after.”

Gina Cody is the former executive chair and principle shareholder of the engineering firm CCI Group based in Toronto.

She is the first woman in Canada to have an engineering school named after her.

The number of female students studying engineering, however, is still only around 20 per cent. And only 12 per cent of young women continue on to work in the industry.

The statistics are even more dismal in computer science and this concerns Cody.

She says it’s time for women to take their place in the STEM fields in much greater numbers.

“We are living in an era, we are in the fourth industrial revolution, where computer science, the internet of things, artificial intelligence, these are all replacing the old way of manufacturing and society is changing as a whole. And if women don’t get into computer science and engineering, we will be left further behind.”

(With files from CBC, Wikimedia and Concordia University)

Gina Cody back in Montreal to meet the Mayor

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Posted in Economy, International, Internet, Science and Technology, Society

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