The Crazy Adventure of Women in Music Tech

by Léa Ikkache
May 10, 2017

Dear WiMT Newsletter readers,

It is my pleasure to tell you the tale of this wonderful organization (Women in Music Tech) through the eyes of an insider. I am French, so allow me to start this letter with some good old grumbling. I went to a conference about Computer Science education this year, and learned something in a lecture that I found utterly heartbreaking. Little girls who were shown images objectifying women (with women characters, sometimes subtly or blatantly sexualized, and really whose sole purpose seems to be that of decoration) right before a math exercise would do less well than girls who were not shown the pictures. Girls from the first group were also more likely to find other girls and women less intelligent than men on average.

But I didn’t need to learn that to realize that something was wrong when it comes to women in Engineering… Back in my undergrad in France, there were 20% female students, and at GT in our beautiful department, we oscillated between 15% and 20%. Let me remind you that the percentage of women in the world population is, on average, 50%. I did realize it but did not think that it was particularly my place to do something about it, and work kept me too busy to think about the things I could actually do to address this issue.

Then came Anna. I didn’t know her well at the time, she was just this woman with very dark hair, the quietest voice; she seemed a little shy and very nice. She asked me if I’d be interested in an interview about women in sound (can you believe this group was going to be called Women in Sound?). I, therefore, met with her and the other Anna (Weisling); we talked about our stories, and why we thought there were so few women in the field of Music Tech, and quite frankly, engineering in general. Anna aggregated the data from this interview and others that she had conducted, and asked if I wanted to present it to the department with her.

During our discussion on the results, Anna said something like ‘some of the actions we recommend are actually easy to implement’. And I replied: ‘then maybe we should implement them.’ And I saw on her face the smile, and sparkling eyes that I knew were on my face as well. I would say that this moment is the start of Women In Music Tech. We decided to brainstorm with the rest of the department and create a committee, with the help of Deanna. And there we were, at the brainstorming session, the three of us in front of almost the whole department – professors included – when we only expected a few participants. They were all intrigued, and focused, and actively participating, helping shape the pillars of the organization. So to all who participated last year, and who are reading this, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Then we had the general directions we wanted to take, a list of actions that we could make, and a number of volunteers for the committee. After writing our charter during the summer, we started the Women in Music Tech year. Anna and I worked together regularly for preparation, and we would meet with the committee once a month to make decisions and share the work. Now, to the committee members who woke up early on Wednesdays to come to these meetings and listen to the two excited Lea and Anna talk about projects and ask opinions, I’d also like to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your dedication and guidance were invaluable to the group – and to our sanity.

We accomplished an impressive number of things this year, ranging from concerts to networking events, to creating a newsletter from scratch under the brilliant direction of Amruta – or as some would call her, Mamaruta–, to working with High School girls and having a safe space faculty training for one of our committee members. You can find the details on the website about our actions, their supporters, and their results.

Most of these wonderful deeds were made possible through funding from Georgia Tech institutions. At the beginning of the year, Anna and I met with a lot of fascinating members of the Georgia Tech community to ask for advice on how to start an organization, how to effectively recruit female students, and how to keep an inclusive culture in the department. The most shocking encounter was with Frank Clark, our School of Music Chair. Frank has a way of saying excruciatingly pleasant things with a perfect poker face. And it is with his poker face that he said ‘I’d like to give $2,500 from the School of Music budget to Women in Music Tech’. Well. We didn’t even think that we would have any money for this project, let alone this astronomic budget waiting for us!

We used it for the organization of our Fall concert – and believe me, funding allowed for catering, which was a very important aspect, and which was surprisingly a success. I say surprisingly because we mostly counted on the presence of GTCMT students to compose our audience, but a recruiting event for GTMCT students decided to be created on the same day at the same time. A few other horrific obstacles made us slightly worried right before the concert. For example, we started advertising 1 week before the concert – the recommended time is 2 months – because we were late in creating the posters and flyers. Another example is the fact that the piece I was supposed to perform with Takahiko was not exactly ready on the day of the concert.

In the end, everything magically (or with the help of wonderful people like Leslie, Corissa, Josh, Tim, and Ashis) worked out. The venue – the Garage – was almost full with a hundred people, the College of Design Dean came, and we sent a strong message about what music tech is, thanks to interesting performances and lightning talks. I want to say a word about Ashis, who worked considerably for this event and broke a finger once it was over on his way back home. Now if you want a definition of dedication, I’d probably say ‘Ashis’.

You need to know that we were not supposed to have enough volunteers for the concert: only a few students signed up on our carefully organized sheet. As we were scrambling to prepare everything on the day of the concert – Ashis, Anna and I were skipping class to make sure that everything was ready; we saw a massive amount of GTCMT students come after class to help. Again, almost all the department showed up to support us. And, besides everything we implemented this year with the committee, the encouraging financial support, and the good results we obtained; I would say that this GTCMT spirit is what I found most fulfilling in this adventure.

I was thrilled to see students come together to set up performances, work on events, to see professors (Jason and Alexander, both members of the committee) involved in the student life and willing to give time to our organization. This department is not a department for lazy students. When you go to the labs at 11 pm, most students are still there, and very often you will find at least one student at 1 am, 2 am, 3 am. To think that these overworked students spent time volunteering on projects for Women in Music Tech made me really grateful. I’m grateful for the chance I had to meet all these amazing people and to have shared so much with them.

And I hope that the new generation, who seems very enthusiastic and competent, will continue to grow Women in Music Tech, and to nurture the cohesion that we witnessed within the department this year, and create connections between the graduate and undergraduate worlds.

I’d like to thank warmly everyone in the department and outside the department for a formidable journey, from scratch to a meaningful organization. Bit by bit, we’ll do it.

Special thanks to:

  • Anna for the countless hours spent on WiMT with me, and for being a great friend,
  • Alexander, Jason, Jyoti, Ashis, Anna W, Mike, Gerard, Anna X, Amruta, Deanna, Zach, for being wonderful committee members,
  • Amruta for handling the newsletter with elegance and rigor,
  • Ashis for the Fall concert and the pre-show,
  • Alexander and Tyler for helping with the websites,
  • Zach for helping with our Facebook page,
  • Avrosh for helping with InVenture day as well as Hanoi and the Project Music Connector for their demos,
  • Tim and Gil for helping in events organization,
  • Corissa and Leslie for their constant advice and support,
  • Jason, for taking the time to do the safe space training,
  • Vinod, Mason, Chris, Ashis, Zach, Mike, Anna W, Anna X, Victoria, and Amruta for writing articles for our newsletter,
  • Hua, Sirish, Brandon, Ashis, Anna X, Anna W, Taka, Jyoti, Nikhil, Milap, Chris, Jonny, Rupak, Sid, Tyler, Avrosh, Hanoi, the Women’s Choir and Nothing but Treble for composing or performing in our concerts. All the volunteers of the day, as well!
  • Pratik Shah for designing an amazing logo,
  • Madison Cario and the Center for the Arts for great collaborations,
  • The ATL Sandbox, for letting us use their wonderful venue for our Fall concert,
  • Julie Ancis, Archie Ervin and the Institute Diversity for their guidance throughout the year,
  • Project Music Connector for helping with Music Tech demos and Roxanne Moore and Jasmine Patel for giving us space and time during the InVenture Day,
  • Chair Frank Clark and the School of Music, for your incredible support,
  • Professor Catherine Ross and the ADVANCE program for your financial help and advice,
  • Dean French ad the College of Design, for placing your trust in us and helping financially,
  • Colleen Riggle and the Women’s Resource Center, for meeting with us several times and helping us financially,
  • Michael Nitsche, Richard Utz, and the Digital Media program for their support to our travel grants initiative,
  • Julie Kim and the College of Design Diversity Council for their support to our travel grants initiative.

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