Norha Villegas is currently dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Design at the Icesi University in Cali, Colombia, and associate professor in the ICT department of this institution
“Synergies with organizations and industries, having a broad international vision, contributing to the academy with a relevant training offer and likewise, linking young people of all socioeconomic levels, these were the main results for which Norha Villegas Machado won in the “Digital Leader” category of the “Women that Build Edition 2022” awards.
She also is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Victoria in Canada. Thewomanpost.com spoke with her and evidenced her kindness in her treatment, security in what she speaks, pride in what she has achieved, and love for Colombians.
We begin by asking why to include design within engineering, and she points out that “these are areas where they have always complemented each other. Designers think about innovation, about how to look at all problems from different angles and focused on the user; engineering comes from the word ingenuity, it is inherent to us. This mixture is a great challenge since engineers are strict with the rules, and the structures, while the designers are always in the shoes of the communities”.
She has been in her professional life for 20 years and in nine of that time, she has grown the academic program by 400% and positioned it as one of the best in software engineering in the country, increasing the participation of women. With great passion, he talks about the mark he has left on students and how he has managed alliances with the industry to meet their needs and thus adjust university education to achieve the personal and professional development and success of his "boys", as he calls them by much love. “I have been able to reconcile the needs of the industry, of the organizations with the training of hundreds of students; I have focused on programs related to technology based on international standards and generated social mobility and economic development and competitiveness for our region”.
When asked why it is better to work in Cali and not be a runaway brain, she acknowledges that she is not constantly lacking in offers “but what makes sense to me is to generate an impact on people's lives. Everything that one does in Colombia will have greater strength in the communities since the governments have been inferior to the challenges. I am convinced that quality education is the transforming force for the growth of students and their families. I wake up happy every morning because I know that each project, each decision is supported by the university and by this transformation in the lives of the students, of the graduates”. With these determinations, one is concerned about how much of what we do generates positive changes in people. why are we in this world? Whom are we impacting?
Everything is to be done
Regarding the digital divide of access to study for women and technology, she affirms that “in the past, the industry was not very empathetic; now it has been transformed since many of the problems can be solved remotely. Women still in Colombia continue to assist at home, and it is time that parents understand that women have the same capabilities as men. I have been a mentor to more than 100 women who are practicing their profession or still studying.”
But so much knowledge of young communities and the needs of the industry should generate important reflections for change "the government has lowered support for scholarships for low-income women to study engineering and technology in quality private universities, and that frustrates the future for the quality of social life in cities as well as the development of the country. There is a lack of sound public policies thinking about the country and not about political parties”. And she clearly states "people get ahead with a quality education."
And this desolation is confirmed by some figures revealed this month by ECLAC, “in most countries in the region, the proportion of women graduated from science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers does not exceed 40%. The most critical fields are engineering, industry, and construction (with 30.8% participation of women in higher education enrollment in 2019) and information and communication technologies, ICT, with 18% participation of women in enrollment of higher education in 2019”. The road is long, and from the daily chores, what are we doing to reduce this gap?
She proudly acknowledges that “Colombia has prestige in software development, engineers' skills are valued abroad, and we know how to work as a team. The world is asking for more engineers in software, cybersecurity infrastructure, and telematics, among other areas”.
This woman from Cali is one of the winners with three other Colombians in the same number of categories, Natalia Pinilla (Rising star), Daniela Carvajalino (Tech Entrepreneur), and Andrea Guzman Mesa (Techfluencer). For this internationally recognized researcher for her contributions to software engineering and the first woman in Colombia to be a Senior Member of the Institute of Electric and Electronics Engineers -IEEE-, "the "Women that Build Edition 2022" award is a recognition of my management and helps me to promote the work that I do”.
These winning Colombian women are part of other winners from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, India, Mexico and the Caribbean, Peru-Ecuador, Spain, Uruguay, the United Kingdom, USA-Canada. All of them were chosen among 2,374 nominees and 112,406 votes from around the world. Every year women who are making a difference are presented, perhaps by reading this article, you will be encouraged and next year, you will be a winner.