Conference teaches girls about technology-related careers

March 25, 2011

Megan Jackson is no stranger to the FiT for the Future conference.

She has taken part in the conference sponsored by Females in Technology, a student organization at Indiana State University, every year. She said that participating in the first one as a high school student contributed to her decision to attend ISU.

Jackson, president of Females in Technology, and other FiT members welcomed nearly 60 high school girls from around Indiana to a technology career-exploration event that took place March 17. Now in its fourth year, the conference provides exposure to a variety of technology fields with speakers and hands-on workshops, as well as opportunities to meet other girls with hopes to work in technology-related fields, such as Jackson.

The ambitious junior, a double major in technology and engineering education and mechanical engineering technology and double minor in motorsports and advanced manufacturing radiated confidence in her career choice.

In studying to become a teacher, "I can not only do what I like to do every day, but I can also encourage students and [teach] people that they can succeed," Jackson said with a smile.

The morning began with keynote speaker Carolyn Pfrank, an ISU graduate, who works for Barger Packaging in Elkhart. She emphasized the importance of experimenting with different jobs in technology as a result of the ever-changing field.

"I've always enjoyed the changing nature of the technology field," Pfrank said, "You're not doing the same thing day after day after day. You have to learn; you have to grow. I love the continuing education aspect of it."

One participant questioned Pfrank about her experiences with gender differences in the workplace.

"I don't really get hung up on gender," she said, "and I'm happy to say I've never encountered that in my work. I've never had anyone that got caught up in gender, other than people just offering to be nice and lift heavy things, which is polite!"

Participating students were then dismissed to attend workshops, coordinated by FiT members. One workshop included was "Oh No! Women Drivers!" which involved air-compressed drag races and information from Team Sycamore Racing. The team is an organization that provides students with opportunities to operate, manage and drive the group's dragster at area speedways.

Other workshops included Duct Tape Frenzy, Racing for Robots, and Towers of Terror, among others.

The day concluded with lunch and networking with female technology professionals from Indiana State and a variety of companies.

Bev Bitzegaio, director of outreach and student career support for the College of Technology, and faculty sponsor for Females in Technology, said women are crucial in technology fields for the diversity they bring.

"Women have a different perspective than men do," she said, "It may not be a biological difference, but women have been socialized differently, and so they bring to the table a different way of looking at things. That diversity is really important in solving problems and developing new ideas to improve our world, and employers see that as well."

The FiT for the Future conference also had the goal of promoting awareness of the wide array of technology opportunities that are so often overlooked by women.

With assistance from conferences such as this one, female enrollment is expected to increase in ISU's technology programs.

"We have probably about 10 percent females now [in technology programs], as opposed to the five to seven we had at the beginning when we were just starting this project," Bitzegaio said.

As awareness to these programs is continually raised, female students like Megan Jackson will recognize ISU's technology programs as a foundation for a successful and rewarding career.

"Women have made progress in all these different fields and taking the traditional man's role," freshman Ricki Bougher said, "but we need more women, and we need more that can do it well."

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Events/2011-Fit-for-the-Future/2011-Fit-for-the-Future2011/1219425415_BibvT-L.jpg (ISU/Holley Hiett-Myers)
Indiana State University freshman Molly Joseph (right) works with area high school students during the Females in Technology conference at Indiana State University. Joseph is a member of FiT.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Events/2011-Fit-for-the-Future/2011-Fit-for-the-Future2011/1219424252_7nHnW-L.jpg (ISU/Holley Hiett-Myers)
Carolyn Pfrank

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Events/2011-Fit-for-the-Future/2011-Fit-for-the-Future2011/1219425023_ndowj-L.jpg (ISU/Holley Hiett-Myers)
Indiana State University freshman Samantha Fox (right) works with a high school student during the FiT for the Future conference.

Contact: Bev Bitzegaio, director of outreach and student career support, College of Technology, Indiana State University, 812-237-3575, or Bev.Bitzegaio@indstate.edu

Writer: Mallory Metheny, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3773