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Nicole Glassey Balet
Monday 13 March 2023 08:30

Nicole Glassey-Balet, professor and researcher, chose to settle at the HES-SO Valais-Wallis institute of informatics some thirty years ago. An EPFL engineer in mathematics, she quickly became interested in computer science and particularly in algorithms, which describe the human idea, the concept that is essential to the implementation of a programme. Despite a classic academic career, it is clear that Nicole Glassey Balet can be seen as a model for young women interested in technical fields. "I really enjoyed my studies and never felt any difference between myself and my male classmates, despite the scientific orientation I chose. Perhaps I was lucky to come from a background where studies were valued," she confides modestly. However, her rich and impressive career path deserves to be highlighted. A mother of four, a teacher in the field of business information technology, a researcher and project manager at the IT institute, committed to gender equality in technical professions, and an experienced motorcyclist, Nicole is a true role model for female leadership. She was kind enough to take some time to talk about her work as a teacher, researcher and equality responder.

A rich background and a passion for teaching

As the youngest of a family where all the members of the siblings have studied, it seemed logical to Nicole Glassey Balet to follow the same path. Her career path, which she describes as academically classical, led her from secondary school, where she obtained a scientific matriculation diploma, to the EPFL, where she obtained a degree in mathematics engineering. She has very good memories of her years of study where, even though there were very few women, she felt a great deal of respect from her fellow students and the teaching staff. After graduating, she worked in a private bank in Geneva, but very quickly, the lack of meaning in her brokerage activity led her to choose another path. It was while doing some replacement work at the School of Computer Science (the predecessor of the HES-SO Valais-Wallis) that she was hired as a full-time professor. It was a period that Nicole Glassey Balet remembers with great joy: the school was brand new, the teachers were all under 30 years old and everything had to be done! It was while teaching mathematics and programming that she developed her taste for teaching. She is still passionate about her job as a teacher, which she carries out in the field of business computing, where she teaches programming, algorithms, i.e. the essence of a programme beyond the technical aspects, and operational research. Thanks to this job, she can make the most of her natural curiosity, stay up to date thanks to this constant monitoring and learn from the new generations. She recently accompanied the students of the Digital Team Academy and got involved in the acquisition of new teaching methods. The proximity of the professors and students at the HES-SO Valais-Wallis is really a huge asset that allows her to easily implement the results of her research projects into her teaching.

From business informatics to research

Nicole Glassey Balet is very attached to the applicability of the results of her research projects and launches her research activity with the desire to propose projects that are operational, pragmatic and efficient. She started her research career as an independent researcher and pursues it as a free electron, broadening her areas of interest: e-Learning, mobile applications in their early stages or the contribution of artificial intelligence in the media field. Open-minded and energetic, she never misses an opportunity to discover new fields of activity. Together with her colleague Zhan Liu, a scientific assistant, she recently created the Media Innovation Lab. Fighting against fakenews, quality labeling for media, valuing data to facilitate communication between journalists and readers, these are all projects to which Nicole and Zhan have devoted time over the past two years. Always in a very pragmatic spirit, the last media project her team worked on had as a partner ESH Media, owner of several titles in French-speaking Switzerland, and in particular, of the Valais newspaper Le Nouvelliste. Very much rooted in the regional economy, the project proposed to make the most of the data in the publishing house's possession. Indeed, there are many sources of data (paper and web edition, website traffic, social networks, satisfaction questionnaires) that can be used to improve the relationship between a media and its readership. The main challenge for the Media Innovation Lab was to make this whole spectrum of data readable and interpretable.

A commitment to equality

Let us mention another facet of Nicole Glassey Balet who is the equality officer for the HES-SO Valais-Wallis. In her view, it is really important to increase the proportion of women in technical professions. It is indeed computer scientists who program and create the applications we use in our private and professional lives. It has been proven that there are biases in the design of these programs depending on the origin or gender of the person who creates them. To see that the technology giants have built their algorithms on gender bias, just type in the search bar of your browser "schoolboy" and click on the image search and repeat the operation by writing "schoolgirl". The results are indisputable. Nicole Glassey Balet tells us that company managers are desperately looking for qualified personnel in the IT field, and even more so for qualified female personnel. It is clear to managers that mixed teams are more efficient and creative. With a view to creating vocations and helping girls to dare to enter technical professions, she introduced the EPFL course "Internet and Code for Girls" in Valais, which enables girls aged 9 to 12 to learn programming. This course is also taught by female students of the business computer science course in French and German. In this way, the students act as role models for girls who imagine that a career in a technical profession is possible. Nicole Glassey Balet manages the Wins project, an inter-school project (management and engineering) which enables girls aged 12 to 15 to learn about IT, mechanics and electronics, and she is also behind the Girls@HES summer courses. Nicole Glassey Balet is committed and passionate in all her activities at the HES-SO Valais-Wallis.