Fewer women than men in U’s IT

Jerret Raffety

Women at the University are beginning to eclipse men in number in almost all schools except the Institute of Technology.

Women make up more than 50 percent of the enrolled students in almost every school in the University as of fall, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Reporting.

Women also make up 55.2 percent of enrolled students at the University as a whole. However, they are not as visible in the Institute of Technology, making up only 14.9 percent of enrolled students.

Some within the University attribute the inequality to previous training and experiences for students.

Men are more inclined by tradition to design, build and fix things, said Shreyasee Kambale, career fair sponsorship director for the Society of Women Engineers student organization at the University.

By the time women look for a career, they are more attuned to “nurturing” sciences, such as medical and social sciences, she said.

Crystal Austin, a second-year astronomy graduate student, said the technology and physical sciences were not encouraged for women in her high school.

“It’s a social factor,” said Austin, who is also a Women in Physics and Astronomy student organization officer.

Austin said some families might encourage their sons to pursue technology or physical sciences before their daughters.

“Traditionally, it’s a male-dominated field to begin with,” Austin said.

With a higher ratio of men enrolled in IT, men would, by proportion, be those who stay on the technology track for more-advanced degrees, she said.

The problem underlying the disproportionate number of women in IT is a lack of support for female students in the college, said Claire Walter-Marchetti, interim director of the Office for University Women.

“The truth of the situation is that there are inadequate support structures and initiatives to help women be successful within (IT),” Walter-Marchetti said.

Previously, the University offered Women in Sciences and Engineering, a program which provided grants, mentorship and summer programs for female IT students, she said.

Recent budget and staff cuts from the state have reduced and eliminated several programs meant to mentor and teach female science students, including female IT students.

The University still offers some Women in Sciences and Engineering programs, Walter-Marchetti said. For example, Comstock Hall still offers a Living and Learning Community, where female students of the sciences can live together to network through studying and socializing, Walter-Marchetti said.

However, the Office for University Women is still encouraging IT to incorporate more women, she said.

“IT is able to provide mentoring and other initiatives in a piecemeal fashion and not with a program of full scope,” she said.

Ideally, Walter-Marchetti said, female IT students would have programs that increase women’s access to the school. Such programs should also improve the school’s climate for female students and focus on retaining women, she said.

The programs would help female IT students to not feel isolated or unsupported within their college, she said.

“If you don’t create these support structures, then you will see the success of individual women but not an increase in the numbers (of those enrolled in IT),” Walter-Marchetti said.

“You may even see a back-slide in the numbers,” she said.