WANTED: Women in TECH
Local educators, professionals focus on recruitment, retention
A team of local educators and information technology professionals recently joined forces at St. Johns River State College to collaborate on ways to improve the recruitment and retention of females in the STEM fields. The workshop included a special emphasis on technology-driven careers and prompted attendees to share the paths that led them to their current roles and what they believed to be important advice for women pursuing STEM careers.
“Being unique is important,” SJR State IT student Kelly Kaler advised. “A woman doesn’t have to act like a man, as it takes away her diversity. Every person can bring something to the table, and that drives innovation.”
Kaler explained how her newfound career in network engineering “fell into her lap” as a result of her problem-solving capabilities at the local animal clinic where she currently works. Kaler quickly realized how much she loved solving network issues and wanted to make a career out of it. “Some of the good things about being a network engineer is knowing that you are working on critical components for an organization,” Kaler explained. “The area is so broad, and networking will always be an evolving need that provides many new learning opportunities. With that responsibility, usually comes decent pay.”
According to Kaler’s professor, Norval Bell, Kaler has become a leader as well as the perfect role model for SJR State’s current push to recruit women for its IT degree programs. “I find that with the proper level of encouragement and support, women will naturally thrive in this area,” Bell said. “My vision is to give the utmost support to women in STEM. We have to stop the stereotype that females are not as good as males in this area, and I am working to encourage the reality of more women in STEM. It’s slowly but surely starting to have an effect.”
At the workshop, Marilyn Barger, principal investigator and executive director of the Florida Regional Center of Excellence for Advanced Technological Education, provided a comprehensive slide-show presentation on the current status of Women in STEM. In her “What does the data say?” report, Barger highlighted that “57 percent of girls believe that if they went into a STEM field, they’d have to work extra hard for men to take them seriously. Additionally, while “81 percent of females are interested in pursuing STEM careers, only 13 percent say it’s their first choice.” And, “out of 12 graduates with a STEM major, only three continue to work in STEM fields three years after they graduate.”
Following the slide-show, FLATE representatives led the group in strategy exercises, where attendees brainstormed on ways to build upon current high school/college practices and enhance STEM recruitment efforts, advising and retention strategies.
Attendees, including high school guidance counselors, college professors and local STEM professionals, agreed on a number of short term and long term goals that included creating female clubs; increasing the number of female guest speakers, instructors and mentors; providing extracurricular activities such as drone fairs; and making all STEM courses available on each of the College's campuses.
Recruitment strategies included building an interest in STEM among girls at a younger age as well as utilizing social media to its fullest advantage.
“Having these discussions and listening to different perspectives will help in our efforts and decision-making process,” Bell said, adding that his biggest take-away from the workshop was that it is the responsibility of all personnel to ensure that their workplace or training environment is diverse, supportive and encouraging to all women. “We can’t just talk the talk; we also have to walk the walk, and that means everyone,” he said.
An additional initiative included Clay Career Day, a collaboration between Clay County schools, SJR State, and business partners to show case various STEM careers that include hands-on activities with drones and medical simulators. The event emphasizes how today’s technology is the backbone of nearly every occupation, including careers one wouldn’t associate with technology - from the high-tech mannequins used in the nursing program to forensics and cyber security associated with criminal justice careers.
SJR State Director of Computer Education John Etienne, together with IT student Kelly Kayler and instructor Norval Bell, participate in STEM recruitment efforts, advising and retention strategies.
Workforce advisor Laura Gwin brainstorms with her team to build upon current high school/college practices to recruit women in STEM programs.
Panelists discussing their roles in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. From left to right: SJR State’s Orange Park campus Executive Director and Vice President for Workforce Development Anna Lebesch, who served as the panel moderator; Amy Wright, St. Johns River Water Management principal engineer; Rachel Klama, SJR State software developer manager; and Kelly Kaler, SJR student pursuing her A.S. degree in Computer Network Engineering Technology.
SJR State Director of Computer Education John Etienne leads his team - IT student Kelly Kayler, SJR State Workforce Director Melissa O'Connell and instructor Norval Bell, in STEM recruitment stratigies.
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