The future of IT: Bluemix for Girls inspires confidence in young women

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Information systems juniors Mashiyath Haque and Kyle Mosqueda (center) mentored Jennings High School students during the Oct. 14 Bluemix for Girls event held in the Express Scripts Building. (Photo by August Jennewein)

A recent USA Today article brought attention to research indicating that the number of women entering computer technology fields is at risk of a sharp decline.

Dinesh Mirchandani, professor of information systems, has known of this troubling trend for quite some time. In efforts to reverse it, he’s brought a variety of information technology events to the University of Missouri–St. Louis that encourage growth of the IT field through inclusivity and diversity.

On Oct. 14, Mirchandani and a group of UMSL volunteers welcomed 30 students from nearby Jennings High School to participate in Bluemix for Girls, an IBM-sponsored program where young women interested in computing technology get an introduction to website programming while also exploring career possibilities within IT.

“We believe the confidence that the high school students gain from this experience may help dispel any fears they have of working with computers when they realize that there is a supportive community of women technologists willing to help them succeed,” said Mirchandani. “If some of these students go on to have fulfilling careers in IT, we would have made a difference.”

Information systems junior Mashiyath Haque knows firsthand how a little encouragement can equal big payoffs. When she’s not studying or watching cyberpunk movies on “The Directory,” her custom-built desktop, Haque serves as an officer of the IS Mentorship Club, Boeing mentorship program and the Dean’s Student Advisory Committee. In these positions, she helps plan events like the Women’s Hackathon and uses her affinity for technology to better her surrounding community.

Haque first started flexing some IT muscle while attending Timberland High School in Wentzville, Missouri. Spurred on by competition with her peers, she found that she had a real knack for building computers. Unfortunately, despite her know-how and work ethic, she has still encountered unsupportive environments in the generally male-dominated field.

“Honestly, as a female, I consider being empathetic and fair to women to be important,” said Haque. “I’ve had an internship at an IT department where I got there and everyone assumed I didn’t know anything, even though they had seen my resume. I got through the internship just fine, but the experience proves that if we made workplaces more inviting for women and everything more equal, employees, customers, companies and communities would all benefit.”

Kyle Mosqueda, a fellow information systems junior who decided to pursue IT after meeting Mirchandani during UMSL Day, believes the discrimination Haque experienced is “kind of messed up.”

“It’s disappointing when women think they can’t work in a certain field just because it’s usually considered a field for men,” Mosqueda said. “Equality is important everywhere, and having a more diverse workforce brings a lot of different insights and experiences that could help solve problems and make advancements faster.”

Mirchandani has complete faith that motivated young women like Haque can have a lasting impact on the IT field.

“Mashiyath is very proactive and always willing to take the lead,” Mirchandani said. “I believe as much learning happens outside the classroom through involvement in student life as does within the classroom, and she exemplifies the ideal student leader who avails herself of the opportunities provided while also helping create new opportunities for other students.”

During the Bluemix for Girls event, Haque and Mosqueda assisted the high school students in utilizing HTML and JavaScript to create personal websites hosted on IBM’s cloud platform. Though Haque expected the students to be beginners with a lot of questions and hesitations, she found herself pleasantly surprised.

“I thought the Bluemix was a real eye opener when it comes to seeing how much potential the students involved have,” she said. “A lot of them were helping each other out and knew more than the basics. I just wasn’t expecting any of that, but these girls are extremely brilliant, and if they continue to attend our events for women in IT, then I think they can really shine.”

The UMSL Experience

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