CCM alumna speaks at Women in STEM luncheon

PHOTO BY RACHEL NIDER Women in STEM Club members attend luncheon.

Women in STEM Club members attend luncheon.

Editor in Chief

A luncheon to raise awareness for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, commonly abbreviated as STEM, was held 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 25 in Davidson Rooms A and B. There were 37 County College of Morris students and faculty in attendance. 

The Women in STEM club and Dean Patrick Enright — dean of the division of business, mathematics, engineering and technologies at CCM — hosted the event with the help of a grant from the American Association of University Women.

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Holly Lusardi describes her experiences as a woman in STEM.

Enright said the goal of the luncheon was to “support recruitment for women in STEM Club and really ready to start to build a community of women who are tech-oriented.”

After everyone arrived and received their lunch, Enright gave a short speech welcoming everyone.

“The heart of our program, today is to meet a woman in STEM,” he said. “Someone who has had the education and is out there in the field, and maybe give you a little insight into what it’s like.”

Dr. Adrienne Lesser, New Jersey coordinator of college and university partnership at AAUW, provided some opening remarks.

AAUW was formed in 1881, a time when women who attended colleges were an incredible minority, according to Lesser. Now there are more than 100,000 members nationwide. 

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Women in STEM Club leaders: from left to right, Casey Mee, Charlotte Rodgers, Shirley Castaneda, Scarlett Toro

Lesser described some of the issues that AAUW has dealt with, one of which was human trafficking.

“The Super Bowl is a marvelous venue for sports, [but] unfortunately it’s a very good venue for human trafficking,” Lesser said. “We approached all the hotels around the area [and] gave them information about [it].”

Lesser described the changes women have encountered in the past 20 years, particularly an issue with Barbie dolls. In 1992, Mattel added a voice to its Barbie doll, and one of the phrases it said was “Math class is so hard.” Many organizations, including AAUW, were furious. They lobbied Mattel to change this, and they eventually did. Now, one of the jobs that Barbie might have is chemical engineering.

“Of course STEM education is a vital thing for women,” Lesser said. “Women are vastly underrepresented.”

Professor Bonnie Murphy, chairperson of information technologies, introduced the guest speaker, Holly Lusardi. She described Lusardi as a “distinguished” graduate of CCM’s computer information systems degree program.

“She can serve as a wonderful role model for students in all areas who set goals, pursue them and determine to continue to learn and grow,” Murphy said.

Holly Lusardi is an information technology professional with more than 20 years of experience in the field.

“The computer science field today is constantly changing,” Lusardi said. “How often do you get an operating system update to your cell phone? That’s how rapidly things are changing in the industry.”

Lusardi started out as an administrative assistant at a company in Manhattan, N.Y. until her boss gave her the task of learning the billing system, which resided on a TRS-80, a personal computer launched in the late 1970s.

“I discovered that I had a real knack for computer programming, which was something I never had thought about before,” Lusardi said. “I also discovered that I really liked it a lot.”

Lusardi’s next job was with Electronic Data Systems, an information technology equipment and services company, where she would work for 11 years. Since there were not many computer programmers at the time, EDS developed an internal training program called the Systems Engineer Development Program, a 10-week technical training program which Lusardi participated in. She learned computing languages, such as COBOL.

Lusardi also has experience working for AT&T Inc., which she described as “a very exciting place to work.”

After leaving EDS in 1996 to be with her family, Lusardi took part in creating an online grocery shopping business and taught Microsoft Office for five years at Project Self Sufficiency, a nonprofit agency which helps women become economically self-sufficient.

Once her three daughters started going to college, Lusardi wanted to go back to work full-time, so she came to CCM to brush up on her technical skills. She earned her associate degree in computer science in 2007.

After graduating and working for an entrepreneur for a year, Lusardi was hired by Universal Technical Services Inc., a consulting company, to work for the Department of Defense. She is currently a software engineer at Picatinny Arsenal and has been working there for almost six years. She develops software for the Paladin, which is a mobile artillery vehicle that is similar to a tank. She said that she likes her job because she enjoys problem-solving, working with customers, team collaboration and learning new things.

Lusardi plans to receive a Master of Science in software engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology in the spring.

“I believe that women have many strengths, that they can bring to technical careers,” Lusardi said.

Lusardi referenced the Association for Computing Machinery for the top 10 reasons to major in computing, including “Computing is part of everything we do,” “Expertise in computing enables you to solve complex, challenging problems,” and “Computing is an essential part of well-rounded academic preparation.”

“Everything you do today requires you to be able to use a computer,” she said. “So if you [have] a background in it, you can go anywhere.”

Lusardi said that, with a degree in computer science, the opportunities are endless.

“Computer science touches everything we do,” according to Lusardi. Some applications of computer science she mentioned were social media, gaming and marketing.

Lusardi also described some of the “hot” careers in computer science, one of which was analytics, the discovery and communication of meaningful patterns in data.

“They’re calling it the sexiest career of the 21st century,” Lusardi said. “They can’t find enough people to do this and the applications again are endless.”

Other “hot” computer science careers Lusardi mentioned are bio informatics, cognitive scientists and computational lin- guistics.

Lusardi referenced the Bureau of Labor Statistics for information on the job outlook for computer science careers. Many such careers could result in a six figure salary, according to the statistics.

Lusardi also cited the National Science Board with a shocking statistic: only 19 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer science are earned by women. She then proceeded to explain some possible reasons as to why this number is low.

“Even though people say that they think men and women are equal, they unconsciously have a feeling that women aren’t the same as men,” Lusardi said. “Another issue is family. Women think they can’t balance work and family and that there’s a 24/7 workload and they can’t do it all.”

Another factor could be the lack of awareness and understanding about the field. “There are a lot of different things that you can get involved in,” Lusardi said. “You can sit in a room and code if that’s what you like, but that’s not all there is to it.” Lusardi also described the “geek stereotype” that could be tied with people in these careers.

“Well I can’t lie to you, this stereotype does exist,” Lusardi said. “But these people are extremely intelligent, they’re great to work with and I found that working with them, our strengths and weaknesses balance out because what they lack in their ability to communicate, that’s where I come in.”

To encourage more women to enter STEM fields, Lusardi suggests exposing girls to successful female role models and educating teachers and parents to overcome gender bias.

“I always let [my kids] know they could do anything they wanted,” Lusardi said. “Whatever you want to do, you can do it. It doesn’t matter that you’re a girl.”

Toward the end of the presentation, Lusardi provided profiles of a few women she knows who are also in STEM fields. Some of them hold executive positions, and others are graduate students ready to start their career.

“Oftentimes, I’ll be in a meeting of 15 to 20 people and I’m the only woman in the room,” she said. “I think of myself as being a software engineer in the room, not a woman when I’m in that meeting.”

“Don’t try to act like a man to fit in,” Lusardi said, quoting one of the women in the aforementioned profiles. “You are a woman, so be yourself and embrace the differences between the sexes because each has different strengths that thrive in the work environment. Rather than overthinking gender roles, focus on being the best scientist, technician, engineer, or mathematician you can be.”

To conclude the presentation, Lusardi quoted Karen Sparck Jones, a woman famous for inventing Inverse Document Frequency, which is a technology that is used today by most search engines.

“I think it’s very important to get more women into computing,” said Lusardi. “Computing is too important to leave to men.”

In order to help raise awareness of these issues, the Women in STEM Club was created spring 2013.

Enright described the leaders of the Club as “impressive” and “committed.”

“I am very, very pleased and apprecia- tive of the leadership of Women in STEM Club,” Enright said. “They have been amazing.”

Leadership of Women in STEM Club includes Scarlett Toro, president, Casey Mee, vice president, Shirley Castaneda, secretary and Charlotte Rodgers, treasurer.

Scarlett Toro, president of the Women in STEM Club, is a biomedical engineering major because she “love[s] helping people out” and “building and fixing things” and hopes to be in a hospital fixing machines in the future.

Toro said she believes that the reason for the small number of women in STEM fields is because they “didn’t have the opportunity.”

“I think women are shy to go where men dominate in the field,” Toro said.

However, Toro believes that the number of women in STEM fields may increase because of the raised awareness toward the issue.

“[Women in STEM Club is] an opportunity to feel more comfortable in those fields and to help each other be more successful,” Toro said.

Toro also said that male-dominated classes can be “frustrating,” and it can have good and bad sides.

“If you don’t understand something, you don’t want to ask because you don’t want to be considered dumb [because you’re a girl],” Toro said. “But sometimes the guys try to help.”

Casey Mee, vice president of the Women in STEM Club, said she is an electronics engineering technology major because she has “always been interested in it.”

After she graduates from CCM, she intends to transfer to Rochester Institute of Technology. She wants to find a job in production, hopefully helping to “put out new designs” and assist engineers.

“I think women are intimidated by it,” Mee said. “More men may enjoy the aspects of it [and] most professors are male.”

Mee said being one of the few girls in a class makes her feel like she needs “to prove [her]self a little more.” However, after a while it’s “okay.”

Mee joined Women in STEM Club at the recommendation of one her professors. “It’s really a good outlet for women inSTEM fields,” Mee said.

There are five advisers for the Women in STEM Club: Deborah Poetsch, Kathy Schuck, Kelly Fitzpatrick, Keri Flanagan and Mary Anne Wassel.

“The faculty have been outstanding,” Enright said. “This shows you the high level of importance placed on the initiative.”

Enright described the reason for such a small amount of women in STEM careers to be a “snowball effect.” If it starts out with fewer women, then it will continue to result in fewer women in the field.

“The learning groups then become male-centric,” Enright said. “Projects outside class discussions [may] focus on areas associated with men.”

Enright provided the example of hands-on science. Men may have had more experience throughout adolescence with tools and may know the names of them, while women may not have had that advantage.

Enright suggests that a woman’s interests in careers tend to be more “socially focused” and for the “betterment of the community.” He believes that the disciplines are not making it clear enough how STEM careers can be applied to these kinds of ideals.

“People need to be sensitive to the motivations, which may differ by gender,” Enright said. “For example, a male may build a bridge because he’s fascinated with the mechanics, [while] a woman may be wondering about the two communities the bridge connects, but they are building the same bridge.”


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