Lady Blazers networking into high-tech

Nov. 13, 2003, midnight | By Brittany Moyer | 17 years, 2 months ago

"Alright guys, that piece goes right here, through this opening," she says, pointing to one of the small holes in the partially-constructed Lego-crafted robot. Three students are huddled around a table covered with assorted Legos in a Tech Ed lab, a room that's active with clusters of animated Robotics Club members. The girl's partners quickly and obediently follow her directions, inserting the piece as she described and then stopping to wait for instructions.

It's freshman Lea Savard's first appearance at Robotics Club, but her assertive leadership suggests otherwise. Pushing her lengthy golden-brown hair behind her ears, Savard remains focused on reading their robot construction manual and relaying the next steps to her peers. She doesn't seem to care, or even notice, that she is only one of the two girls in the room, a small fraction of the club's 18 attendees.

In small but important ways, Savard's attendance is helping to bridge the yawning gender gap that plagues the male-dominated technology industry. A growing number of lady Blazers are leaping into the once-forbidden field of technology, defying female stereotypes and paving a road for entry into high-tech jobs. They're taking regular tech-credit classes, as well as the Cisco Networking Academy and specialized Magnet classes. A gender-tech revolution has clearly hit Blair.

Beyond the credit: pure dedication

To graduate from Blair, Blazers are required to earn at least one technology credit, which can be chosen from any one of the 30-plus tech courses offered.

A new web design class was added to the course offerings list last year, a course that may appeal to girls more than a computer programming course, for its combination of clear-cut technical skills with unlimited creativity, hints junior Jessica Yen. Yen, a student web designer, recently set up her own web site to display her new layout designs. She became so interested in web design after an internship last summer that she recently founded a web design club at Blair. "Web design club is definitely the highlight of my week," Yen says excitedly. "It feels so great to teach other people and open up a new world of possibilities for them to explore."

While high-tech fever has wrapped the attention of some Blazer female students around computers, others are shooting for the stars, literally. Junior Abigail Fraeman has become interested in exploring a different part of the world with technology, the sky. Fraeman has taken several astronomy courses outside of school she wants to become an astronaut one day. Her aspirations are already beginning to materialize; this fall, Fraeman was selected as one of 16 "student astronauts" from around the globe to participate in the Planetary Society's "Red Rover Goes to Mars" project. Early next year, Fraeman will travel to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California to help analyze mission images and data transmitted back to earth from NASA's two rover spacecraft, expected to land on the red planet in January. Fraeman is one of seven girls participating in the program.

One thing remains true for anyone pursuing a career in technology: they must be prepared for technically complex and intellectually demanding tasks. Many tech-related projects require extensive memorization and infinite patience, but female Blazers like sophomore Stephanie Paul are attracted because of the rewards worth the work. Paul, an up-and-coming computer programmer, points to programming success as hinging upon a deep reservoir of patience, especially in trying to find a computer bug embedded deep in a program that prevents the software from running. "You know that one little thing is wrong, but you aren't sure what. Then you go through thousands of lines of code until you find that one incorrect character," she explains, pointing with her finger to the imaginary computer screen in front of her, running through endless lines of code that stretch on and on. "But the feeling you get when you find that out-of-place semicolon, and your program runs, is incredible. You're just like, ‘Ah! I don't believe that I just did this!' Then you know that those hours in front of the computer are definitely worth it."

Networking into high-tech

One of the most successful, yet demanding, high-tech areas at Blair is the school's Cisco Networking Academy Program (CNAP), labeled Cisco for short, which is attracting an increasing number of female students. Enrollment by women students has nearly tripled since last year and now represents nearly one-fourth of all students participating in the program. Graduation from the two-year program earns a student valuable certification in the use of networking equipment manufactured by Cisco Systems, a leading computer network manufacturer. Private schools offering Cisco certification training charge as much as $4,000 for the same course.

Senior Aisha Harris, a second year Cisco student and one of the twelve girls enrolled in the program, shed her initial anxieties about computers to become one of the leaders of the Cisco pack. Her fascination with computers, she says, hasn't diminished her "female partialities." "I have teddy bears all over my house. I watch the Disney channel more than any one else in the world," Harris says with a wide grin. "But I'm willing to put those things aside and give the effort towards learning something new," she says.

After completion of the Cisco class, Harris plans on taking the CNAP certification test, the gateway for accreditation status recognized internationally by the computer industry. With the certification, Harris will be eligible for hire directly by Cisco or by other computer companies, catapulting her directly into the high tech working world.

My, how times have changed

The strides that young women are making in technology are especially noticeable in historic terms. James Distler, a technology teacher at Blair, points to his experience as an adolescent. "When I was in high school, girls couldn't even take advanced math and science classes—the school and teachers didn't encourage it. But I always thought it was funny—our advanced math and science teachers were always women! Now, what does that say?" he asks ironically.

Student-teacher interaction with women math teachers perhaps inspired the girls at Distler's school as role models and builders of female confidence. And the same dynamic holds true today. Paul explains that her female math teachers encourage her; Fraeman acknowledges the benefits of having a mother and father who are scientists, and Yen attributes her initial interest in web design to a female web-designing friend.

The notion of role modeling, in fact, lies at the heart of a program called Females in Science and Technology (FIST) at Blair. The one-day program, run by junior and senior girls, involves a series of workshops for middle school girls that introduce technology as a stimulating and fun area of study. FIST was held at Blair on Nov 8. "See, the technology industry definitely isn't just for guys, as it has historically been," Distler says. "We have to get our girls in there early, because it's finally high time for females in technology."

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Brittany Moyer. Brittany is a senior in the Communication Arts Program at Montgomery Blair. She has taken pride in being part of Blair's girls' soccer team, Blair's <i>a capella</i> group InToneNation, and of course <i>Silver Chips</i>. Outside of school, Brit goes crazy for arts & crafts, outdoorsy … More »

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