Women in Tech

By Andrea Gallo | LSU Student

Some 100 high school girls flooded LSU's Royal Cotillion Ballroom to hear older female counterparts bestow advice about the importance of taking risks when considering joining a male-dominated industry during the Women in Technology Careers Forum.

Seven women who are tied to LSU and who have worked in the science, technology, engineering or mathematics fields, otherwise known as STEM, told the girls Thursday that it is important to be open to technology careers, even if they are often considered "boy jobs."

"It's one of those things that, as women, we sell ourselves short. We think we can't do it," said Julia Chan, a chemistry professor at LSU.

Chan was a music major when she started college. It was "serendipity" that sparked her interest in a tech field.

Joni Catanzaro, an undergraduate adviser in LSU's Department of Information Systems and Decision Sciences and the rector of the university's Business Residential College, said when she was looking at careers the options presented to her were along the lines of becoming a secretary, teacher, nurse or airplane stewardess. She chose teaching, but did not expect to end up in math and science because she didn't have female math or science teachers in high school.

That risk-taking mentality especially resonated with Hannah Chen, a junior at LSU's Laboratory School. Chen, a lover of math and science, said a summer program at Duke University ignited her interest in electrical engineering, but that her electrical engineering class only had four girls in it.

When the presenters urged her to stay away from her comfort zone, it resonated, she said.

LSU F.A.C.E.S lab director Mary Manhein and the founder and CEO of InfiniEDGE Software, Czarina Walker, emphasized that students who are also strong in English and communication areas can excel in STEM fields. Manhein said she studied creative writing at the undergraduate level and recently penned a novel.

Though she plans to enter a performing arts field, high school sophomore Mariah Mendez said Walker's story about starting her own company when she was 19 years old inspired her. "It showed you can do whatever you want to do if you put your mind to it at a young age."

Even though the girls could find themselves a minority in their future fields, Manhein said they have a significant advantage. "What I think is so great about women is we can multi-task. We can multitask out the wazoo."

Nearly every tidbit of advice offered was laced with a message of sisterhood and the power that women can achieve. Regina Kunkle, NetApp's senior director for state and local government and higher education, said networking in STEM fields often pays off when they look for jobs.

"We women, by the way, take care of each other, we look out for each other."