Number of women enrolled in IT still low

Nichol Nelson

When Penny Starkey came to the University in search of a graduate degree in the Institute of Technology, she found herself in a chemical engineering office where she was the only female.
“I guess I didn’t think about it ahead of time,” Starkey said. “It makes it a little difficult to find your circle of friends.”
The IT programs continue to follow a national trend of low female enrollment in math and science. According to official registration statistics released by the Office of the Registrar this week, only 870 of the 4,223 students registered for winter quarter classes in IT were women.
That number marks a 2.7 percent increase from a year ago, but some inside the college say it’s just not enough and are priming future female students from local elementary and high schools.
IT Dean Peter Hudleston said that although enrollment numbers are low, there is “reasonable support” for females in the college. Dropout rates for women are lower than the national average and women do better academically than men in IT, Hudleston said.
“The main problem is getting women at an earlier age interested in math and science,” he said.
That’s where the Program for Women in the Institute of Technology comes in.
Under the direction of Susan Marino, the program transformed from an initiative to help women complete their technological degrees to a recruiting tool for young girls.
“Girls especially are not all that savvy about what engineers do,” said Marino. “It seems a little perplexing.”
Marino runs a computer summer camp for fifth-grade to 10th-grade girls at the University. The program aims to get young women excited about the sciences and the University.
Marino said the camp targets all socioeconomic groups and does not select participants on any specific criteria. The University provides financial aid for more than half of the girls.
The “Career Choices in Computing” camp sessions are held in IT computer labs. Marino said the on-campus location helps young women feel connected with the University.
Cindy Kaus, an assistant professor in the School of Mathematics, also runs a program to encourage girls to apply to IT. She stressed the importance of role models for women, a sentiment Hudleston echoed.
Hudleston said the low percentage of female professors in IT — 6 percent — has a negative effect on women enrolled in the college.
“The climate is not as good as it could be,” he said. “The fact that there are fewer women than men shows. It’s harder for women to feel comfortable in the program without role models.”
Hudleston said that if more undergrads enter the college, more will stay as faculty:
“They’re all linked.”