PIQUA — Young girls and women have been told the same phrases throughout history when it comes to STEM-related careers: “You wouldn’t understand,” or “this is not a job you can do.”
Who says they can’t?
Keynote speaker Leslie Spivey, a software engineer and professor of computer technology at Edison State Community College, was able to list a dozen and more women who made a historical impact in computer programming during the “We Are I.T.” conference at Edison on Friday.
“You can’t be what you can’t see,” Spivey said, as a response to women being hidden in the history of STEM careers. “This profession takes a lot of dedication to be successful.”
Some of the forgotten or unrecognized women in STEM history are Radia Perlman, known as the “mother of the internet; Wanda Dann, the director of the Alice Project, a 3D animation tool; and Augusta Ada King, the first known computer programmer from the mid-1800’s.
Hedy Lamarr, known to be the first actor to “bare all” on film was known little for being a co-founder of the wireless communities.
“We owe Bluetooth and wireless internet to an actor,” Spivey said to the girls. “You have to develop a passion and to develop a passion, you need to be inspired … The opportunities are boundless … for that reason, I keep on learning.”
The conference invited girls in grades 6-11 from 16 local schools to motivate them to invest in STEM-related careers – or another acronym that the event promoted, MITSE (Math, Information Technology, Science, and Engineering) – as a local effort to help raise the statistic of women who invest in MITSE careers.
The schools that attended were Anna Local Schools, Benjamin Logan, Botkins, Bradford High School, Covington Middle School, Greenville High School, Houston, Northmont Middle School, Parkway, Piqua High School, Piqua Junior High School, Russia, Sidney, Tippecanoe High School, Tippecanoe Middle School and Upper Valley Career Center.
Some of the breakout sessions at the conference included forensic computer analysis, computer hardware, robotics, writing and creative problem solving, med lab tech, and more.
Women investing in MITSE careers have been on the decline. In 1987, 37 percent of women graduated with computer science degrees and today that number has dropped to 18 percent. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, some other STEM careers that are low in women are industrial engineers, which is at 17.2 percent; electrical and electronics engineers are 8.3 percent; and only 7.2 percent are mechanical engineers.
Dr. Patti Ross, senior vice president of academic affairs at Edison, was one of the coordinators of the event and explained why this event is so important.
“Most girls are not encouraged to think of careers in technology,” Ross said. “Girls can still be a girly-girl and be tech-savvy.”
MITSE is not only the preferred acronym of the event because it’s more fun to say, but because their mascot’s name is MITSE. The mascot was created as way to give girls a model of what a female leader in MITSE can look like. The girls were encouraged to write an essay on how they are like MITSE, with 92 out of 208 participating. A winner is chosen and will get a free computer.
“Girls will identify with MITSE and look at her and say, ‘I am her,’” Ross said. Ross also stated that most of the essays were very emotional, with many girls attesting to adversities as young women becoming themselves in the STEM-world.
Alisa Van Overstraeten teaches computer and networking at Edison and shared what she sees in her classroom when it comes to girls being interested and sticking to the computer information technology field.
“Out of 15 students, I am lucky to have one female student,” Overstraeten said. “(MITSE careers) are not considered sexy or fun … they are not considered personable. I think in general, the young men intimidate the young girls.”
Overstraeten said after the conference, many of the girls register for classes at Edison when they graduate high school.
As a woman, Overstraeten has had her fair share of fighting sexism in her career.
“It can be intimidating to be a part of a male-dominated field, but it’s exciting to be one of the few (women), but I would like to see more (women),” Overstraeten said.