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Vol.28 No.3, July 1996
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Local SIGs: Students

Kate Ehrlich

Students form an important constituency of a local group especially in cities and towns with major universities and colleges. Students, both undergraduates and graduates may be taking classes in various aspects of CHI through computer science, psychology, library science or business schools. For them, attending meetings of a local CHI group provides an opportunity to learn how HCI gets applied in product organizations and get exposure to a range of HCI related products. Local meetings also provide a social function of letting people meet and get to know others with similar interests in HCI.

Despite the seeming benefit of these meetings, students have not been well represented in local CHI groups. They are much more likely to get involved with a CHI conference or other national or even international activities. True, several students have played important volunteer roles in their local group. I even know of one case where a local group had a student who served as chair while in graduate school.

Local groups might want to explore ways to foster stronger links with their local student population. Most local groups have offered a number of enticements to students including a price break on the already low membership fee. Many local groups advertise job openings at their meetings and/or in their newsletter. And the social part of meetings can provide an opportunity for students to meet each other especially from other universities and colleges as well as potential future employers.

There is more that can be done. Suggestions passed on to me include holding meetings at places that are easily accessible to public transportation or walking distance to a major college or university. Or forging closer links with professors who are teaching HCI courses.

If you are a student and have ideas of ways to increase student participation in local groups write to your local chair (address on the inside back cover of this publication) or to the general local SIG mailing list at .

Profile: Ottawa

There are several active local groups in Canada who have been featured in previous issues of the Bulletin: ToRCHI (Toronto) in January 95, VanCHI (Vancouver) in April 96. This issue rounds out the Canadian groups by focusing on CapCHI, the local group in Ottawa (Ottawa is the capital city of Canada). In addition to holding meetings and distributing newsletters, CapCHI has initiated a scholarship program for local students in HCI to help defray the cost of books. They also have a new web page where you can learn about their future meetings and get information on the officers of the group.

The interview was conducted with Peter Szmyt, the chair of CapCHI.

Tell me something about the history of the group. When did it get started?

Peter: The best way to learn about how the group started is to have the founder, Frank Wimmer, tell the story. Here's the story from the first issue of our newsletter printed in October 1991.

"One day in Spring of '91, because of my affiliation with the Computer User Research Evaluation lab at Carleton, I met Trish Brooks. During a brief discussion with Trish (of Nortel Technology, formerly Bell Northern Research) and Jo Wood (Tombaugh) (of Carleton University) and a few forgotten others, the idea arose that it would be interesting to encourage the interaction between the Carleton lab and the folks at Nortel. After using several colleagues as sounding boards, it seemed like a good idea to not only include Nortel, but several other computer-oriented firms in the Ottawa area. With so many "high-tech" companies in the Ottawa area, it seemed only natural to have some kind of forum where these various companies could meet and share their concerns in a common interest.

After hearing of my interest in forming a local "club" with a focus on human-computer interaction, someone passed on the name Jon Meads to me. Jon became instrumental through his encouragement and advice. While attending CHI '91 in New Orleans, I discovered that groups from other cities were having regular meetings to explore CHI related topics. About 10 regions in the US and one (Toronto) in Canada were having some success with local special interest groups in computer-human interaction. While in New Orleans, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of local SIGCHI chapters. From this meeting, I found that the Ottawa area appeared to have all of the essential factors necessary to maintain its own local chapter of SIGCHI. These essential factors are (1) a large number of "high-tech" companies, (2) diverse interests among these companies, and (3) enough keeners employed at these companies to share local chapter workload."

I've met a lot of these keeners first-hand throughout Ottawa SIGCHI's inception and growth. Here are the people to be thanked for a successful start of Ottawa SIGCHI (in order of "appearance"): Susan Wimmer, Jon Meads, Jo Wood (Tombaugh), Dick Dillon, Sonia Bot, Tim Dudley, Yolande Akl, Alice Wong, John van Schouwen, Bob Barr, Mart Batten, Peter Szmyt, Adriane Donkers, Marceli Wein, Scott McEwen, and Russ McDowell. Due to these people, and everyone who has supported local meetings with their attendance, Ottawa SIGCHI is not exclusive to Carleton grad students and Nortel employees. In fact, at last count, more than 36 different local organizations have been represented at our first three chapter meetings. Many thanks to all of the people who have given their time to see that Ottawa is (rightfully) recognized as a geographic centre in computing and telecommunications.

The current officers are:

Peter Szmyt
Tonya Scherba
Sara Makarenko
Grant Neufeld
Arnold Smith
Treasurer and Memberships:
Janice Singer
Norm Vinson
Sonia Bot
Kevin Burr
Arnold Smith
Marceli Wein
Inez Gowsell

What is the main background of the members and where are they drawn from?

Peter: The main background of members is software (developers, programmers and analysts), but it really is multidisciplinary with user interface designers, industrial designers, media artists, documentation specialists, human factors specialists, researchers, technical writers, professors, business analysts, graphic designers, trainers and ergonomic specialists. Most of the attendees come from Nortel, and others come from many different organizations: University of Ottawa, Carleton University, National Research Council, Communications Research Centre, Université du Quebec a Hull, Cognos, Corel, Object Technology International, Mitel, and numerous other companies, contractors and consultants.

How many members do you have?

Peter: Since the beginning of the 95-6 season in September, we've stopped maintaining memberships to the local chapter. Instead we ask for $2 contributions at every meeting you attend. It makes it easier to manage and people get direct benefit for their contribution.

We do have roughly 200 people on the mailing list for meeting announcements and roughly the same number have signed in at meetings since the September meeting.

What are your main activities?

Peter: Our main activity is our monthly meeting held from September to June in one of the Nortel meeting rooms. To give you a flavor of our meetings, here's a list of some recent meetings:

Visualization and ISEA, Arnold Smith, NRC, Catherine Richards, National Gallery of Canada, and Jeromy Carriere, Nortel
Using Scenarios as Engines throughout the System Development Lifecycle, Sonia Bot, Nortel
Performance Support Systems, William Bezanson, Nortel
Agents, George White, University of Ottawa
End-User Training, Deborah Compeau, Carleton University

Tell me more.

Peter: We are an informal group connected by our mutual interest and the internet. Our goal is get our group together to learn and exchange ideas. Ottawa is home to many computer companies and the number is growing. Being the capital of Canada, we also have many government departments doing work in our area. This year we've had many new volunteers and it's sure to make the group better.

How can people find out more?

Peter: You can get more information by getting in touch with me at or visiting our Web Page:

New Local SIGs Chair

I am delighted to announce that Richard Anderson of BayCHI will be taking over as local SIGs chair. As the program chair for BayCHI, Richard has been responsible for many of the innovations as well as terrific speakers at BayCHI meetings. I am confident he will bring the same enthusiasm to serving all local SIGs, as he has to BayCHI. I am stepping down after serving as chair for over 2 years in order to have time to devote to the upcoming CSCW conference and other CHI related volunteer activities.

You can reach Richard at

And remember to check out the local SIGs web page at

Kate Ehrlich
Retiring Local SIGs Chair

Same topic in earlier issue
Previous article
SIGCHI Bulletin
Vol.28 No.3, July 1996
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Same topic in later issue