Breaking the Stigma

In News, Spring/Summer 2016 by Sally Jongsma


Dordt College is one of four institutions awarded the 2016 NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund. Sponsored by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), with support from Microsoft Research, the fund supports academic programs focused on recruiting and retaining women in computing.

NCWIT research has shown that although 57 percent of professional occupations in the 2015 U.S. workforce were held by women, they held only 25 percent of professional computing occupations.

“There appears to be a cultural stigma surrounding the computing profession that it’s a man’s world,” says Computer Science Professor Kari Sandouka.

Dordt College will receive up to $10,000 to help encourage female students to pursue computing. This summer, Dordt will offer tuition assistance for middle and high school girls who sign up for computer-related offerings at the summer academic camps, Dordt Discovery Days and IDEAS (Investigating, Discovering, and Excelling in Academics and Service).

Sandouka believes offering tuition assistance could significantly increase the exposure of female participants to computer science-related careers and skills while in middle and high school.

“Waiting until a high school senior visits campus as a prospective student is too late, as they almost always have made another choice for their major,” says Sandouka. “These conversations need to start earlier.” At present, few schools offer courses in computer programming or related fields, let alone require them for graduation.

Dordt also plans to begin a “Girls Who Code” club, offering opportunities for young women and girls to be exposed to computer science related professions. The club will put them in contact with women in industry.

“Ultimately, increasing women’s participation will lead to a more innovative and competitive technology workforce,” said NCWIT CEO and co-founder Lucy Sanders.

“As people within God’s kingdom, we are all given different talents,” says Sandouka. “Those talents grow to strengths in a fostering environment that allows us to act on those talents and develop them. We each bring different things to the table—whether it’s a different perspective that aids in the problem-solving process or a view of life that contributes to the overall function of the software. Companies and the computing industry as a whole lose out when they exclude individuals based on gender, race, or other attributes.”

In the U.S. in 2013, women earned 57 percent of undergraduate degrees. Yet women earned less than one-fifth of undergraduate computer and information sciences and engineering degrees. NCWIT hopes that providing engaging tech-related opportunities can help change this trend.

“My path to computing professions started by way of an internship,” says Sandouka. “I liked seeing how people were more efficient in their jobs once they were aided by technology.” She also enjoys the fact that “there’s always something new to learn,” she says.

Careers in computing vary greatly and require a broad range of talents.

“Problems can be solved in multiple ways, but that is the beauty and creativity of it,” says Sandouka. “There’s a scientific process behind writing software and working with technology, and there is a creative aspect that makes you feel like the world is at your fingertips.”