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University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

University Bulletin Vol. 50, No. 17
Seventeenth Week
Fall Semester
Dec. 9, 2002
 Students organize new information technology group
Several young women at UW-Eau Claire who say they are part of an underrepresented but important part of the nation's future high-tech workforce are doing something to change that by starting a new student organization: Women in Information Technology Systems or WITS.
     Officially recognized as a new campus organization this fall, group members began meeting and planning last spring with the encouragement of their faculty adviser, Janet Quarderer, senior lecturer in the computer science department.
     "It can be pretty intimidating for a freshman woman to walk into a class of 100 students and see only three or four other women," said senior Karissa O'Keefe, president of WITS.
     The other WITS officers, all senior computer science majors — vice president Theresa Steffen, secretary Jolene Stoel, and treasurer Cindy Johnson — agreed.
     "Only a few women declared themselves as computer science majors this fall and without some support from other women they'll probably feel as intimidated as we did," said Johnson.
     WITS is aiming to offer that support and encouragement to women interested in studying computer science and related high-tech fields like MIS and software engineering. They are planning activities and projects, both social and educational, to help women gain self-confidence, and particularly "computer confidence," by exposing them to mentors and role models through speakers and company tours and by offering them a group of like-minded women with whom they can socialize, study and pursue professional development opportunities.
     All four of the WITS officers said they had not felt particularly encouraged to study computer science in high school, and as a result, they all felt somewhat behind the men when they first declared themselves as computer science majors at UW-Eau Claire.
     "But the faculty here was very supportive and told us not to worry if the guys seemed to know a bit more already about specific things like HTML coding because they'd participated in male-dominated computer and game clubs in high school," said Steffen. "They told us they'd teach us what we needed to know, and we'd compete just fine and in many cases do even better."
     Nevertheless, WITS members would like to see girls in elementary school and young women in high school encouraged to feel just as comfortable and confident about computer technology by the time they reach college as young men entering the field. The officers said they would be interested in going into local schools to do demonstrations or to encourage girls to form their own computer clubs, and they will be exploring ideas for those types of activities at future meetings.
     Quarderer said it's been a privilege working with the women and helping them start WITS.
     "Several of them mentioned their ideas about starting a women's group and I just coordinated the first meeting to get it started. It's fun working with intelligent, competitive, hardworking young women," Quarderer said. " They are role models everyone can respect."

Russ Feingold to speak at UW-Eau Claire
The UW-Eau Claire chapter of Amnesty International will host U.S. Sen. Russell Feingold for a Human Rights Day forum at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec.12, in Schofield Auditorium.
     As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Feingold works to make human rights concerns a higher priority in U.S. foreign policy. The Human Rights Day forum is an annual event held to honor the adoption of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the founding of Amnesty International. Feingold will speak on "The Importance of Human Rights Since September 11th." The forum will be followed by a short reception.
     Feingold was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992. In 1998, after keeping his historic pledge to limit his campaign spending to $1 per voter, and disallowing party soft money from being spent on his behalf, Feingold won a second term.
     The event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Trever Hagen at hagentt@uwec.edu, or Rita Webb at 836-3259.


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Liz Wolf Green, Editor
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
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(715) 836-4741
Diane Walkoff, Editorial Assistant

Updated: December 9, 2002