Putting the she in STEM

Evangeline Colarossi—Staff Writer

Dordt currently has 35 computer science majors. Only three of them are female. Last year, none were.

While working on her doctorate, Professor Sandouka is one of four women in her program. She is Dordt’s only female computer science professor.

The National Center of Women in Information Technology (NCWIT) partnered with Microsoft to increase the diversity among IT programs. These companies pooled money towards a grant that will focus on promoting the interest and involvement with IT among junior high girls.

“It’s about inspiration — it’s about insight,” said Linda Boff, chief marketing officer of General Electric. “If you show young girls women who have achieved in STEM, hopefully you’re showing them the pathway.”

Professor Sandouka is using the NCWIT grant through her app building class during Dordt Discovery Days. If a girl signs up for Dordt Discovery Days and chooses to take this class, they will find that the cost for their week of camp has been covered by this grant.

The number of girls that take App Building has increased from one to eight over the past three years. While none of these students have graduated yet, all are experimenting and learning what it is they enjoy doing.

“Computer science is now being recognized as a needed skill, beyond just math and reading,” Sandouka said.

Over the last few years, the state of Iowa has made it mandatory for math teachers to teach a programming class to high school students. Before this age, students are not widely exposed to programming. These classes expose students to scientific and computational thinking, which can be used across a wide spread of majors.

“We push communication on our students, though the stereotype is just sitting behind a screen programming all of the time,” Sandouka said.

Elizabeth Wilterdink, is a freshman at Dordt, and one of three women in the computer science program. Elizabeth’s father programmed computer games with her as she grew up, and from a young age Elizabeth was drawn to computer science.

“I can see myself in a career of computer science; it seemed like a very definite option,” Elizabeth said.

In her free time, Elizabeth creates programs for her computer. She has made a program similar to Learn Mode on Quizlet, but specialized it to work with short questions and long answers, along with spaced repetition. She’s also made a program to help her memorize large chunks of scripture word for word.

Although Elizabeth has already seen the minority of females in her field of study, she ahs no fear about her  gender affecting a future career. “I’m not worried about my chances of getting a job or being respected,” she said, “as long as I put the work into it and have a good background.”

The ratio of men to women in STEM fields is beginning to pull more even, though the mindsets within those programs don’t change nearly as quickly, according to Sandouka. “You [Females] have to learn to not just take the teasing, but also give it back. At the same time, guys learn a different way. They can’t just be boys in a classroom.”

 

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