By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone College News Service
Women comprise only 12 percent of computer science majors at U.S. colleges and universities, but a $750 grant awarded to Livingstone College from the National Center for Women & Information Technology, or NCWIT, could help address that disparity.
The money was provided by the NCWIT Student Seed Fund, which is sponsored by Symantec, and will be used to establish FiT, or Females in Technology.
FiT was the brainchild of Livingstone student Tonya Stewart, who wrote the grant that netted Livingstone $750. Stewart is majoring in computer information systems and will be a junior when fall classes resume. She wanted to organize FiT because of the need for women to support each other in the male-dominated field she has chosen.
“I chose this major because working in computers has been something I’ve always enjoyed since I first touched a computer when I was in second grade,” said Stewart, who is from Wadesboro, N.C. “When I got in middle school I made my decision to go to college and major in computer information systems.”
Stewart said she plans to attend graduate school after obtaining her degree from Livingstone and ultimately hopes to become a computer analyst or computer programmer.
“The computer field is male-dominated but I feel more women need to be a part of it, especially African-Americans and other women of color,” Stewart said. “Women of color need to be more actively involved in technology, which is the way of the future.”
Stewart said she thinks there will be a lot of interest in FiT next semester because “females are starting to have more interest in previously dominated male fields, like medicine.”
Dr. Kathryn J. Moland, chairwoman of Livingstone’s Computer Information Systems Department, is proud of Stewart for taking the initiative to write the grant and organize a new student organization on campus.
“I gave her some guidance with the grant by providing some data and helping her with the wording, but she started out with an outline in terms of what she saw as a problem and how she thought the problem could be addressed,” Moland said. “She joined the CIS Department as a second-semester sophomore, as did several other young ladies, and she sees the need for females in CIS to help one another. She sees the importance of mentoring, working together and collaborating to get through the program.”
The $750 will be put to good use, Moland said.
“Our hope is to recruit more women into CIS, to retain them and for them to ultimately graduate and obtain good jobs in computing,” she said.
The way Moland sees it, there are several reasons women don’t readily enter the computing field, but chief among them is the lack of female role models in the profession – in the corporate world and in the classroom.
Moland earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and went to graduate school for sociology but eventually realized she wanted to work in computers and has a Ph.D. in Information Systems from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“I had only one programming teacher at the time I was working on my computer science masters degree who was a female,” Moland said. “But one of my male professors was very good, very encouraging and very patient. Another male professor came to me when I was working on my Ph.D. and said it was so great to see women in the field because they just didn’t have a lot of women in computing.”
Moland is grateful to NCWIT for the grant and said the college has benefitted greatly since becoming an NCWIT member a few years.
“There are some best practices available on the NCWIT site that we have been able to incorporate into our teaching practices here at Livingstone,” Moland said. “And we also plan to incorporate some of the best practices with the newly formed FiT organization.”