25
April
2019
|
04:50 PM
America/Chicago

Unique Efforts Blazing New Pathways for Women in Tech

The future will be fueled by “girl power.”

In South Texas and beyond, women in technology-focused careers are smashing old stigmas and opening new doors. It’s not just a moment, but a movement… and career education is on the front lines.

“The bridge of success for STEM careers is not only for males anymore,” says South Texas College Manufacturing Tech graduate Samantha Salazar, now succeeding as a Machinist for Priority Tooling Solutions in McAllen. “These women have shown it can be done.”

Salazar is one of many STC alums breaking barriers in the dynamic world of high-tech. With technology driving the new economy, demand for career-educated professionals in future-focused fields like engineering, manufacturing and IT is reaching critical mass… and STC grads are stepping up to the challenge.

“A lot of people think that only men can do the job, but there are a lot of women in technology fields -- and not just office jobs,” says Regal Beloit’s Jessica Adame, who, like Salazar, parlayed her STC degree into a rewarding – if “non-traditional” – living in a tech-focused career. “I’m proud that I’m a girl doing this job.”

As tech-heavy careers in South Texas become more dependent on higher education – not to mention higher-paying – the “dirty jobs” stigma surrounding tech-focused careers has begun to erode. Meanwhile, a national effort to introduce female students to technology-intensive “STEM” careers at a younger age has set a foundation for a seismic shift in the way that young women perceive these careers.

“Females in particular don’t always feel like they fit in when they are outnumbered,” explains Erika Guerra, Advanced Manufacturing Tech instructor at STC. “As a young female student in the STEM field, I did not see many female classmates that I could relate to. … Now that I teach, I still see some of the same statistics with students entering these STEM programs.

“When it comes to helping break stereotypes, I’m all in.”

South Texas College has made a mission of boosting opportunities for female professionals in tech fields, through its Technology Campus. In February, the College hosted its annual “Wonder Women in the Making” event, which invited 170 fifth- and sixth-graders from local school districts to participate. The event included live demonstrations and speakers, covering tech-focused fields like welding, manufacturing, robotics, and more.

This month, STC will host its ninth-annual “Women in Technology Expo,” featuring guest speakers, entertainment, live tech demonstrations, and an awards presentation honoring industry leaders. The event will again incorporate the full resources of career education programs.

“The purpose of the Women in Technology event is to promote careers that are not traditionally pursued by females,” says Angelita Teniente, faculty member in the Information Technology department at STC. “In addition to showcasing the various programs … another component of the event is dedicated to honoring and celebrating women from the community who exemplify the movement toward ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ by excelling in careers normally dominated by their male counterparts.”
Angelita Teniente, faculty member in the Information Technology department at STC

“The purpose of the Women in Technology event is to promote careers that are not traditionally pursued by females,” says Angelita Teniente, faculty member in the Information Technology department at STC. “In addition to showcasing the various programs … another component of the event is dedicated to honoring and celebrating women from the community who exemplify the movement toward ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ by excelling in careers normally dominated by their male counterparts.”

Among the surprises for Expo attendees will be mini-cupcakes, baked by the Culinary Arts department, a 3-D printing demo, courtesy of STC Manufacturing Tech students, and even a career education “fashion show,” featuring Fire Science, Police Academy, and Welding students (among others) trolling the runway in full program gear. By seeing other young women succeeding in tech programs, Guerra hopes that the next generation of South Texas professionals will be inspired.

“In order for women to be successful in these fields, they need to be introduced to the opportunities early enough to spark their interest, and they need to be shown that they have an entire support system to help them succeed,” says Sara Lozano, Chair of the Architectural and Engineering Design department at STC. “As a woman and a leader in this field, it is my responsibility to open those doors, especially for women.”

“It’s an amazing event,” adds Dr. Esmeralda Adame, Assistant Dean of STC's Business, Public Safety and Technology Division. “We’ve put a lot more effort into trying to raise the awareness, to educate local females on what tech really is.

“Changing minds, little-by-little, we’re getting there.”

Aside from the obvious benefit of earlier exposure to tech-related opportunities, STC Technology Campus administrators see the annual Expo as a way to raise the profile of specific programs, particularly those seeing sharp increases in workforce demand. These programs include, among others: Computer and Networking Specialists (expected to see an 11% boost in job openings by 2026, with an average annual salary of $52,810); Architectural and Civil Engineering Techs (9% growth / $51,620 average salary); and Emergency Medical Technicians (15% / $33,380).

According to Dr. Adame, who works with local industries to hone her department’s curriculum on an ongoing basis, the key to responding to workforce needs in these critical fields is not being afraid to listen.

“We work very closely with our partners and we listen — they’re the ones that are going to hire our students,” says Adame, who has already seen evidence of the success of STC’s efforts in local hiring. “Everyone is asking: ‘Did you go to South Texas College? … Because we kind of want you to have hands-on experience.’”

Every day, new success stories are surfacing. There’s Christina Aguilar, graduate of the Electrician Technology program and prior Women in Technology Expo attendee, who is now a faculty member at STC, paying her knowledge and inspiration forward. From the Networking Specialists program, there’s Veronica Gonzalez, a U.S. military veteran who has parlayed her tech-focused STC education into a career with a prominent network technologies company. And with more female students connecting to STEM opportunities through events like the Women in Technology Expo and Wonder Women in the Making, the future of South Texas industry will inevitably be driven by tech-savvy women.

“We definitely feel a great responsibility to be part of the STEM movement for women,” says Teniente. “One of our core values at South Texas College is to provide opportunity through access and support for students to achieve their academic and career goals, so we are very committed to supporting and providing success to careers in the STEM fields.”

Salazar agrees, but says there remains work to be done.

“The next stigma that we as women should overcome is the ‘female engineer,’ the ‘female machinist,’ the “female scientist,” suggests Salazar. “As proud as I am for being able to partake in a movement like this, I would like to see it just become a ‘machinist,’ ‘engineer,’ ‘scientist.’