For women in technology, a little support goes a long way

Tanzania Adams saw few women in her classes while earning her engineering degree at the University of Alabama about 25 years ago. There weren’t many women co-workers at Southern Company either, but she’s seeing the numbers grow and doing what she can to support young women entering science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Recently promoted to area manager of Statesboro for Georgia Power Co., Adams is one of the corporate advisory board members of the Women in Technology chapter at Gwinnett Technical College. The group launched last year as part of a pilot program to put WiT chapters at Gwinnett Tech, Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University and Spelman College.

“There were only a couple of women engineering students when I went through school, but I had the full support of my family and friends, who helped babysit my infant son. Now he’s an engineering student,” said Adams. She began to see engineering differently when a professor told her that she wasn’t just learning math and science, she was learning to think logically. She’s found it rewarding to put her knowledge to work to create things that people need.

“It breaks my heart to hear about young women who are discouraged from entering STEM fields. Too often it’s not a matter of women not being good enough to succeed, but that they aren’t even encouraged to consider them,” she said.

Adams was eager to be part of Gwinnett Tech’s WiT chapter. “The one thing I wish I had had when I started work was a better appreciation for networking and building relationships in my career. We can help these students be better prepared for the workplace,” she said.

She’s especially proud of the group’s one-on-one mentoring program that allows students to talk with women working in non-traditional female fields. “It’s so much easier when you have someone you can reach out to for advice and support,” she said.

Billye Boddie had worked her way up in a technology company, and realized that she needed more education to keep advancing in her career. The wife, mother of three and full-time worker, enrolled part-time in a networking engineering program at Gwinnett Tech.

“When I saw the flyer for the new WiT chapter, I knew I had to see what it was about,” said Boddie. “I attended the launch event and every activity after that. I even joined the student advisory board to help lead the group.”

A panel of corporate science and technology women talking about their experiences and answering questions kicked off the club. “One student said that she wasn’t sure she was in the right field. A panel member told her that if she had the capabilities to do what she was pursuing, she shouldn’t sell herself short. Just listening to these women and meeting other female students in IT fields has given me a lot more confidence,” said Boddie. Her mentor, a software engineer from Cisco, has given her advice on her career path. She’s attended workshops about developing her professional image, her resume and polishing her interviewing skills. She even has a professional photo.

“I’ve found this group extremely helpful and empowering,” she said. “I didn’t realize there was a need for more women in technology, but my eyes have been opened.”

Shannon Maxey just graduated with her associate’s degree in computer networking from Gwinnett Tech. She has known she wanted to work with computers since she was eight when she first saw what they could do. “I just wanted to learn more and more, but my first programming classes were disappointing. When I took a class in the fundamentals of networking, I fell in love,” she said.

She’s also a WiT member. “I adore this group. I’ve met so many different women working in different fields and been able to develop some good relationships,” she said.

Through a WiT connection, she’s already been offered a job with NCR. “The company has offices all over the country, and a tuition reimbursement program, so that I can continue my education to earn a bachelor’s degree,” said Maxey.

Vice-president of academic affairs, Victoria Seals, oversees all student organizations at Gwinnett Tech, but this one has been dear to her heart. “As a woman mathematician in a very male-dominated field, I understand the need for mentoring and encouragement,” said Seals. “Besides earning their credentials, women in STEM fields need to feel more confident and not be intimidated.”

Hearing the experiences of working women and being exposed to a variety of career tracks, helps students feel less alone. “They face a lot of challenges already. Having positive encouragement helps them a lot,” said Seals.

The new WiT chapter has attracted more than 60 student members from technology, health sciences, business, accounting, construction management and other programs in its first year. “We’ve been fortunate to have a strong corporate board of advisors who have given back so generously,” she said, “We also formed an advisory student board to help our students in engage in leadership roles.”

She’s proud to have the first WiT chapter on a technical college campus, knowing that it will help her students be more successful. She hopes it will grow next year. “This isn’t just a club,” she said. “It’s a life-changing, career-guiding affiliation.”

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