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Women in Information Technology
Organize New Group at UW-Eau Claire
MAILED: Nov. 27, 2002
EAU CLAIRE — Several young women at the University of Wisconsin-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 just 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 Karissa O’Keefe, a senior from Woodbury, Minn., and president of WITS.
The other WITS officers, all senior computer science majors — vice president Theresa Steffen, Osceola; secretary Jolene Stoel, Augusta; and treasurer Cindy Johnson, Maplewood, Minn. — 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 a bit 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.
Stoel said she’s been told there isn’t such a drastic difference in the number of women compared to men enrolling in the MIS program. However, one woman in MIS told her she joined WITS because she’s interested in meeting with women in computer science to gain more exposure to the technical side of computers.
One issue the group has not quite settled is whether to allow non-members to participate in the activities they organize, such as a tour of network systems at Luther Hospital, their first organized activity this semester. According to O’Keefe, they are currently thinking about helping raise funds for the group by charging non-members (who don’t support the group by paying dues) a small fee to participate in their organized activities.
WITS is planning other activities such as book or food sales to give them the funds to organize social events or weekend workshops that will give their members even more exposure to the specific areas of computer and information technology they are interested in.
O’Keefe and Johnson, for example, think they would like to pursue careers involving Web site design and applications, while Steffen said she is interested in database management and Stoel thinks she’d like to work with security issues for computer systems in government.
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.”
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: November 26, 2002