A 10,000 Euro scholarship is set to help Computer Science student Johanne Trippas pursue her Masters research project into web search using speech-only communication channels that could help people with disabilities to more easily access information.
The scholarship is funded by the VOCATIO Foundation from Johanne’s home country of Belgium and is offered to Belgians under the age of 30 who are undertaking a project they are passionate about and which contributes to society in a broader sense.
Johanne was one of a very small number who got the award this year and she’s especially delighted with the funding.
“This is brilliant news as the scholarship allows me to travel to the US to meet with a team at the University of Massachusetts and I will also have the opportunity to meet researchers in user experience at University of California, Santa Cruz,” she said. “I’m very fortunate to receive this, as it is a very prestigious scholarship in Belgium, coming under the patronage of Their Royal Highnesses King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, with leading researchers and artists on the selection committee, and in addition to financial support, the foundation offers winners career mentoring and the opportunity to network with former laureates and leading figures in your particular field.”
Established in 1963 as the “Fondation belge de la Vocation”, before being rechristened “VOCATIO” in 2011, the organisation supports young people in Belgium to pursue a ‘life project’ (or your vocation) that benefits wider society in some way. Projects can be in a number of fields including technology, art and science, and the aim is to enable young people to make an impact irrespective of their background.
“As part of my application, I presented the selection committee with my Masters research project which is investigating browsing web search results over a speech-only communication channel”, Johanne said. “I discussed how valuable browsing web search results over a speech-only communication channel would be for people with disabilities as it would enable them to access information with greater ease.”
Johanne is also pleased that the extra funding will allow her to remain in Melbourne at RMIT.
”RMIT is a very supportive environment and the staff have been very helpful, while I’ve also been able to meet so many people,” she said. “I love the diversity of Melbourne – you meet so many people from so many different parts of the world – and the beauty of technology today is that my family and friends in Europe are never far away!”
While it was practical considerations that led her to choose RMIT to study, Johanne has found that there are so many other compelling reasons to remain in Melbourne.
“I decided to study at RMIT because it is a leading university in computer science, but it also offers a very hands-on learning experience, and when I was choosing where to study, I felt that this practical approach would be very useful for future employment opportunities,” she said. “Outside of studies I enjoy climbing, running and singing in my local community choir, but I have also been involved in an interesting project to make a robot with Microsoft Kinect sensors for the Artificial Intelligence department, which has been one of the highlights of my studies.”
It was a project with other volunteer students from both undergraduate and postgraduate programs and I learned a lot, while meeting new people from my department who encouraged me to do well in my courses.”
As well as project work, Johanne has also been heavily involved with helping to guide new students and in promoting the involvement and interest of women in computing and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).
“I’ve been involved with a team of students to create a good RMIT experience, and acted as a mentor to new international students, while I’ve also been active as a tutor for a couple of courses at the School of Computer Science and IT,” she said. “I’ve also been a lead ambassador for Girl Geek Coffees, who are trying to provide meaningful interpersonal support to female students and early career professionals in ICT and related STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields.”
Increasing the numbers of women actively participating in computer science and ICT, whether in a research capacity or as industry professionals is especially important to Johanne.
“In both Belgium and Australia women continue to be in the minority in ICT, and with technology being such a significant part of our lives today, it is important that more women are part of the process of creating technology,” she said. “The key to getting more women involved is promoting the study of science and technology amongst girls in schools and having networking initiatives for women working in the industry.”
For her own part, Johanne sees her career as continuing in a research direction, which might possibly see her remain at RMIT in Melbourne.
“I’m looking at continuing my research into a PhD and working to contribute to the knowledge of Human Computer Interaction,’ she said. “The learning environment at RMIT is very supportive and offers a lot of flexibility (so you can study full-time or part-time) with individual learning needs taken into account, so it is possible, for example, to study and work, as many classes in computer science are offered outside of business hours. This is great for people who might want to change their career or who have financial commitments and family responsibilities, though I’ve been told that in Belgium there is less flexibility with many universities offering a more traditional model of education for full-time students.”