Via Dallas Business Journal | Written By Bill Hethcock – Dallas Business Journal Staff Writer – The University of Texas at Dallas’ computer science department is aiming to inspire high school girls to choose and stay in technology careers through a program called Connect-Inspire-Guide.
“There is a wide disparity gap in the number of females in technology careers,” said Dr. Janell Straach, a senior lecturer in the department of computer science and the driving force behind the program. “Through our programs, we are closing the gap not only on our campus, but in the K-12 space and the career space.”
Straach’s inspiration for Connect-Inspire-Guide came from a group of female students at UT Dallas. They told her they didn’t know other women in computer science, so the first goal was to connect. They told her they weren’t sure women belonged in computer science, so the second goal was to inspire. Finally, they told her they weren’t sure about how to be successful in such a male-dominated field, so the third goal is to guide, Straach said.
In this interview, we get more information about the program from Straach.
How do you measure whether you are achieving your goals?
For K-12, we measure perception of computing before and after programs with pre- and post-surveys. For campus-based programs, we measure the number of female students choosing and graduating with computing degrees so we can measure recruitment and retainment. For the career field, we measure involvement from industry professionals in our programs.
What are the most promising opportunities?
More and more female role models.
What are the biggest challenges, and how are you and the university attempting to overcome them?
The gender gap is a nationwide problem and there is no simple one-size-fits-all solution. By having a variety of activities we are leveraging many options of how to close the gap. One critical aspect is using the near-peer model. High school girls teach middle school girls. College students teach/mentor high school students. Industry role models at all levels mentor college students. An additional challenge is that there remains stereotype views that computing is a field for males. In all programs, we showcase female role models to help break down that view.
What new or exciting things are you working on?
We will be expanding our near-peer approach internationally and creating a program where girls in lower income countries can learn about technology and then have “email pen pal” correspondence with U.S.-based female students in technology fields to continue learning. Also, we will be expanding our on-campus programs to include scenario-based role-playing to help our younger generation learn how to handle direct and indirect gender discrimination before they ignore so many micro-aggressions that it creates a flash-point and crisis.
What’s been the most important lesson you have learned in your career?
I can always learn from someone no matter their age.
What do you enjoy most about your career?
I enjoy learning and interacting with students and colleagues. It’s very rewarding to watch students mature as they progress in their academic endeavors.
What about least?
What I like least is not having enough time to do all the ideas I have for reaching more students.
What is the boldest decision you’ve ever made?
Leaving my industry job before I applied for a faculty job. I was passionate and determined to return to university life to pursue increasing the number of females in technology while doing what I love, which is teaching.
What would you like the North Texas business community to know about the gender gap?
This problem can’t be solved by women. We need male allies. The gender disparity gap in technology is a huge problem and requires bold actions by men and women
ABOUT THE UT DALLAS COMPUTER SCIENCE DEPARTMENT
The UT Dallas Computer Science program is one of the largest Computer Science departments in the United States with over 2,800 bachelors-degree students, more than 1,000 master’s students, 190 Ph.D. students, 52 tenure-track faculty members, and 41 full-time senior lecturers, as of Fall 2018. With The University of Texas at Dallas’ unique history of starting as a graduate institution first, the CS Department is built on a legacy of valuing innovative research and providing advanced training for software engineers and computer scientists.