When Jamillah Boyd came to the University of Missouri–St. Louis College of Business Administration for a job through a temp pool, she was supposed to stay one day. Nineteen years later, it’s turned into an assistant teaching professor of information systems and technology position plus two UMSL degrees and one University of Missouri–Columbia degree. Now Boyd is back learning as a College of Education doctoral student.
“The thing that keeps me here is that there’s always been an opportunity for me to grow,” she said. “If I asked to learn something or take a class or do something, it was always a growth mindset, so I was able to grow many, many times here.”
She’s had a new opportunity for growth this year as she was named to the AnitaB.org board of trustees. Boyd became acquainted with the organization five years ago when she volunteered at its Grace Hopper Celebration, a conference for thousands of women in technology.
AnitaB.org, a twist on the name of founder Anita Borg, brings together women from more than 50 countries. In addition to hosting the annual conference, the organization offers networking opportunities, career-building resources and more.
“Women have always held significant roles in computing and technology,” Boyd said. “AnitaB.org is important because it makes that work more visible. The organization shines light on women and girls in technology, and I think it creates a space for women to connect and also to be inspired and to inspire others.”
When an email about joining the board of trustees showed up in her inbox, Boyd saw it as an opportunity to support other women in her field.
She acted quickly. The email came on a Friday, and the nomination form was due on Monday. With the help of Information Systems and Technology Department Chair Dinesh Mirchandani, College of Education Professor E. Paulette Isaac-Savage and Valerie Patton, senior vice president of inclusion and talent attraction at the St. Louis Regional Chamber, Boyd compiled and submitted recommendations just before the deadline.
The next step was a phone interview with AnitaB.org President and CEO Brenda Darden Wilkerson, who invited Boyd to join. Their conversation left Boyd with a renewed passion and enthusiasm.
“The mission and the goal is to reach 50-50 intersectional tech equity by 2025,” she said. “I hope to contribute by sharing my experience as a former student in tech, and now my experience as an educator in tech. I also hope to gain knowledge to bring back to the university, so I can incorporate that into UMSL as well as the community.”
Boyd’s path in education and technology started long before she came to UMSL. The two went hand in hand when computers became widely adopted.
“When I had my first introduction to a home computer, I was very curious about how it worked, what was inside of it,” Boyd said. “So I spent many days trying to take it apart and put it back together.”
Her sense of wonder grew as information systems technology advanced.
“As I started working in higher education, I started to look at technology as a business solution or a way for me to get my work done more efficiently,” she said. “That really sparked my interest. The more interested I got, the more classes I took in IS, so I ended up with an unintentional minor in IS.”
She earned a bachelor’s in business and information systems as well as a master’s in adult and higher education from UMSL and a master’s in library and information science from the University of Missouri–Columbia.
Now pursuing her doctorate, her curiosity is as strong as ever. Boyd is currently analyzing technology barriers faced by senior learners entering higher education and hopes to discover resources and tactics to help them get the most out of their time at a university.
Improving education for senior learners isn’t her only passion, though. She’s devoted to encouraging students in her field through work with the IS mentoring program and the Missouri Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation.
She cites several UMSL resources that support female students entering the technology field. The Women’s Hackathon and Women Computers and Networking Club connect students with each other and with mentors.
There’s also Grace’s Place, a museum located on the second floor of Express Scripts Hall. It showcases how technology has changed across decades with displays of everything from telephones and typewriters to computers and calculators.
Boyd never misses a chance to introduce UMSL students to the Grace Hopper Celebration. Earlier this year, her department took 15 students to the conference.
“We strive to provide opportunities on and off campus,” she said. “One opportunity is the Grace Hopper Celebration. This year, the conference had over 26,000 attendees. That brings a different perspective for students to see women in technology.”
Above all, she stresses the importance of passion and community – not only for careers in technology.
“Spend time looking for opportunities that you’re passionate about,” Boyd said. “Once you find something that allows you to play to your strengths, then find a community. You may need to find that community outside of your organization. Just make sure that you have the support you need.”
But reaching a career goal is not the end of the journey for Boyd.
“Once you’re moving up or growing in the field, just make sure that you’re giving back,” she said. “The faculty created an opportunity, and that’s why I’m here. Hopefully, I’m doing the same for students.”