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Algonquin College engineering a future that includes more women




For the past decade, Kathryn Reilander would stand at the front of her classroom and survey her newest crop of students, struggling to find a female face in the crowd.

Reilander is a professor at Algonquin College in Ottawa and every year in her electrical engineering technician program, she only sees an average of eight women in a class of roughly 200. But for the program’s next incoming class, she’s hoping for a dramatic spike in the percentage of women — perhaps as high as 30 per cent, if all goes according to plan.

On Friday, Algonquin College is announcing a bold — and controversial — new approach for increasing the number of women in some of its male-dominated programs: a pilot project that will reserve 30 per cent of classroom seats for female applicants.

The three-year pilot, called “We Saved You a Seat,” guarantees admission to women who meet the minimum admission standards for four of the college’s most popular technology programs: electrical engineering technician, mechanical engineering technology, electro-mechanical engineering technician and computer systems technician.

The initiative is part of a broader push by post-secondary institutions to close the gender gap in so-called STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math), where women are woefully under-represented.

But the strategy of earmarking seats for female students is something schools have largely avoided. Some say this is due to fears over potential backlash — a particularly acute concern in today’s fraught political climate, where debates around gender and equity issues are increasingly polarized.

While other post-secondary schools are taking more indirect approaches to encourage female enrolment, Algonquin appears to be the first in Canada to actually reserve spots for women in STEM classrooms — or, at least, the first to advertise that they’re doing so.

“What’s really important to know is that we’re absolutely not lowering standards,” said Sarah Gauen, Algonquin College’s inclusion and diversity specialist, who spearheaded the pilot. “We are just making sure that the women who are interested, qualified and applying are entering into our program; that they’re not getting screened out due to any other barriers.”

One of those barriers is the oft-cited problem of women who exclude themselves from consideration, perhaps due to lack of confidence, a reluctance to study in a male-dominated environment, or the assumption that certain disciplines are better-suited for men. The pilot hopes to mitigate such concerns and encourage women who are feeling hesitant to at least consider these programs and apply, Gauen said. “If you’re qualified, and you’re a woman, you’re in,” she said.

Applicants still need to meet or exceed the basic requirements, which often include specific high school courses in math or science. On average, each of the four programs register between 79 and 277 students a year and fewer than 10 per cent are women, according to the school’s statistics — though the female students graduate at higher rates than their male counterparts.

If Algonquin College doesn’t receive enough female applicants to meet the 30 per cent goal, the school will reopen admissions to male applicants to ensure there are no empty seats, Gauen said. But she says early numbers from the current application process are already showing high demand; for the computer systems technician program, the college has already started making offers to qualified female applicants and if they all accept, women will already account for 23 per cent of the classroom when the semester starts in May.

Gauen said the pilot will include parallel initiatives to support female students, including new bursaries, mentorship programs, and training for faculty to give them tools for creating truly supportive and gender-inclusive classrooms.

“It’s not quite so simple that if you build it they will come,” she said. “So we’re going to get (women) in the door and we’re going to wrap our arms around them.”

Gauen said the school chose 30 per cent as its target because research has shown this percentage to represent a “critical mass,” a tipping point where minority groups can meaningfully shift the culture of a classroom, workplace or industry.

Other schools and industry leaders are also setting targets for increasing women in STEM, though most are basing their strategies on awareness campaigns, mentorship networks or outreach work with high schools. Engineers Canada has a “30 by 30” campaign aimed at raising the percentage of newly licensed female engineers to 30 per cent by 2030 (currently, the figure is at 17.4 per cent). The University of British Columbia has a goal of reaching 50 per cent female enrolment in engineering by 2020 and York University’s engineering school is pushing to become the first in Canada to achieve gender parity amongst its student population.

But Algonquin College’s approach is particularly aggressive, said Kim Jones, chair of the Ontario Network of Women in Engineering. And with that comes the risk of backfire.

“It is, I think, a controversial approach,” she said. “(Other) approaches have typically not been as aggressive, partly because there have been concerns about backlash effects.”

One potential consequence is that male students will resent their female counterparts and perceive them as being less qualified or receiving special treatment, Jones said. This could foster a classroom environment that ultimately proves more unwelcoming or hostile — thus exacerbating the “chilly climate” problem often blamed for driving women out of STEM disciplines.

“I absolutely wish them good luck in their initiative and I’m very interested to see what the results are like,” Jones said. “But I think it’s not new to see backlash, and that backlash can be very damaging for the students who experience it.”

Jones said Algonquin College will need to work “very hard” to ensure a welcoming and inclusive environment for female students. This is especially true given the current social climate where identity issues have become so fraught, said Liette Vasseur, past president of the Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology.

She said Algonquin College will also have to work hard to ensure the pilot gets buy-in from professors and instructors, not just students. “I hope that they already have a high level of social acceptability from the faculty members,” she said. “I’m sorry to say this, but I know many faculty members in universities who do not care (about this issue) — and in many cases, it’s not only the men. In some cases it’s women.”

Gauen recognizes the potential for backlash but doesn’t believe a fear of changing the status quo is a good enough reason to shy away from creating more space for women. She believes technology programs offer great career options for women; electrical engineering technologists, for example, enjoy a lot of autonomy and offer starting salaries of at least $50,000, with the potential to hit six figures not long after graduating, according to Reilander.

Gauen pointed to research that gender-diverse classrooms also have positive impacts on male students, teaching them the “soft skills” they need to interact with women in the workplace, or making them more attractive to employers who care about job candidates with diversity skills.

“We are still saving 70 per cent of the seats for men. So this is still in the vast majority,” she said. “This isn’t a win-lose scenario; this is gender equity making things better for everybody.”

Algonquin College student Violet Charbonneau thinks the pilot project will go a long way towards encouraging other women to apply. As a technician student who aspires to get her electrical engineering technology diploma, the 27-year-old sometimes feels lonely in her classrooms, where she’s often either the only woman or just one of two.

Charbonneau sometimes refrains from speaking up or asking questions in class, for fear of drawing even more attention to herself when she already “sticks out like a sore thumb.”

“The guys in the classroom currently have each other and they get all the support they could want,” she said. “I think it’s going to be really great for women to feel the same way.”

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Jennifer Yang is a Toronto-based reporter covering identity and inequality. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar


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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme




Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year




In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal




MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.


The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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