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Recognising and supporting women to study - and pursue careers in - computer science is the aim of the Nicola Crowley Memorial Scholarship, established in honour of the much-loved Guardians’ staff member who passed away suddenly in 2016.

The legacy award, now in its second year, provides a promising female student with funding through the University of Auckland’s BSc Computer Science degree course for a year. Sponsored by the Guardians, the scholarship honours the IT career path taken by Nicola and supports other women to do the same.

Kurt Bellian interviewed Nicola Crowley for her IT role within his team, back in 2013. “Straight away I saw the passion Nicola had for IT and I knew she was going to be amazing at her job. She was; she was immediately running rings around everyone else and she was always the first to put her hand up for anything. It’s amazing how many significant projects she implemented, pretty much single-handedly, in the time she was here.”

The fitness-focused, self-titled ‘tomboy’ was in her early thirties when she passed away unexpectedly in 2016 due to an undiagnosed heart defect. Her brilliant mind, love of cars, motorbikes, travel and her husband Phil – as well as her quirky hobby of seeking out celebrities to be photographed with wherever she holidayed – left an indelible mark on the many colleagues-turned-friends she left behind. Kurt says, “This memorial scholarship is such a fitting tribute to her. She was a woman who broke all the stereotypes. Having a scholarship in her name, sponsoring more young women into the IT industry is a great legacy and one, I think, Nicola would be really proud of.”

This recipient of this year’s Nicola Crowley Memorial Scholarship for Women in Computer Science is Anne Newmarch.

Growing up in small town New Zealand, the youngest of three sisters, Anne says she was always following in the footsteps of the older two. Timaru provided her family with a low-key lifestyle, following a move from Zimbabwe when Anne was one year old.

Her fascination with maths, technology and science grew during her secondary school years at Roncalli College in Timaru, as did her wish to push herself academically, as a volunteer and as a leader. “At college, I realised I had a big love for helping people and that’s what drove me to join quite a number of volunteer programmes. In my last year, I applied to become the school’s academic leader, so I could help people.” So, has she always been a natural leader? “I wouldn’t really say so, but then again, I always seem to end up in those sort of leadership positions somehow, so maybe I have!”

Foreign travel appealed to Anne following college, with an onus on voluntary service to others. Despite having Italian citizenship, owing to her grandparents’ origins, she embarked on a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) expedition to Spain. Fascinated by the Spanish culture and the language, she split her gap year between a rural village of 800 inhabitants and a pre-school in the Basque regional capital of Vitoria. “I had to develop a strong sense of confidence in myself and take responsibility for the kids I was teaching. The host family’s big extended family lunches were amazing – all the food and the conversation. It really inspired me to want to be able to speak Spanish really well.” She now can.

Anne returned home to Timaru with a renewed interest in the world beyond New Zealand and decided to embark on a degree that combined her love of ‘techy maths’ and international affairs. Her careers advisor helped her choose Global Studies and Computer Science and told her about the Nicola Crowley Memorial Scholarship. “I thought, ‘that sounds like a bit of me!’” And it was. Anne was delighted to hear her application had been successful ahead of starting at Auckland University in early March. “It’s the first scholarship of any kind I’ve ever received. It will help me so much with the cost of university and the cost of living up here in Auckland.”

The future-focused realms of machine learning and artificial intelligence appeal to Anne, who is brimming with enthusiasm about her learning so far. “It’s fascinating! The programming aspect of computer science is really creative. And, in terms of computer processes, is incredibly similar to how linguistics works. It’s a connection that I have never really considered before.” But this connection has led Anne to consider the applications of computer science in language learning.

“A long-term goal would be to combine my love of language with my love of machine learning, to create better language learning programmes; programmes that would be able to better adapt to the needs of the user. People often get bored when trying to learn a new language. I think that’s something that really inhibits people from learning. The minute something becomes a chore, people start to lose their interest in it. It would be great to be able to do something about that.”

A summer job in the apple orchards back home awaits Anne, before she returns to Auckland for the new semester in 2021. “I’m really grateful to win this scholarship. My motivation is definitely to help people. I care a lot about people, and I always care about what I can do to positively influence the end product, in whatever I’m doing.”

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