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College event promotes women in IT

By Enzo Nagao
On April 13, 2016

In a world embroiled in social awareness and rapidly-shifting traditions, the role of women in the modern workplace has become a highly controversial topic.  More and more movements dedicated to winning equality and proper treatment for women and other minorities in the workplace have gained traction in the modern world and Kirkwood Community College is no exception. In the field of technology - a typically male dominated industry - Kirkwood students and professors have been working to bring more women in and to encourage diversity and opportunity.

“We’ve been making a concentrated effort here in the last two and a half years and we’ve taken the computer support specialist program from 17 percent to 22 percent,” said Elizabeth McCarthy, associate professor in the Business and Information Technology Department. “IT still has this reputation as a sort of male-dominated work environment, and it is in some cases, but girls can compete- we just do it a little differently,” she said. McCarthy also emphasized that many jobs, especially local ones, are looking to diversify their staff, reaching out specifically for women. In her classes, she teaches girls how to compete in a male-dominated industry and she feels that the strong amount of female teachers in Kirkwood’s IT programs helps to encourage interest. Kirkwood’s Business and IT department has been working to encourage girls to be interested in technology programs through the use of marketing videos, banners, posters, classroom seminars,and constant community outreach to both Kirkwood regional centers and local schools. 

Kirkwood students at the high-tech event 

Sharon Blanchard, department coordinator for the IT department at Kirkwood, said she has high hopes for the future. “We’d like to see one out of every five students be female in our IT programs,” Blanchard said. “What we really see from our students and events in our department is making sure that everyone - females and minorities - are aware of the opportunities and are having the confidence to pursue it.” Blanchard went on to emphasize that the amount of women in IT programs had seen a large amount of growth in recent years.

One of the largest programs Kirkwood’s IT program pushes is the High-Tech Girls Day, a campus visit/hands-on seminar day aimed specifically at seventh through 12th graders. “We’re asked a lot of times why we split High-Tech day into a guys and girls day and we do that primarily for comfort level,” said Samantha Hench, associate professor in the IT program. “We want to let the girls communicate with us and have open and frank discussion about the industry and we feel that they can be more open when they’re talking with their female peers.”

The event, consisting of many different local schools, featured a wide range of classes, as well as guest speaker Kelsey Guetschow, director of Business Intelligence for MedTouch, a company aimed at helping hospital and healthcare facilities with their IT programs. Among the many attendees, eighth graders Cuyler Reid, Paige Emig and Aireal Hemsted from Mount Vernon Middle School voiced their enthusiasm for coding and their appreciation for High Tech Girl’s Day offering them an opportunity they rarely get elsewhere. 

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