MATC Girl Tech
Tech prep for women
“The percentage of women in the IT workforce has declined from a high of 41 percent in 1996, to 32
percent in 2004,” Madison Area Technical College (MATC) information technology instructor Nina Milbauer
said. “That’s why it’s important we reach these girls at an impressionable age and open their minds to
opportunities where both males and females can excel and earn high wages.”
MATC reached out to middle school girls recently, for the second year running, to offer a weeklong
program aimed at getting more girls excited about information technology related careers. Girl Tech 2008
brought nearly 50 6-9th grade girls together to show them that technology related fields are interesting and
engaging, not to mention some of the most rapidly growing employment opportunities around.
“We do a lot of hands-on stuff in order to show girls that technology can be fun and exciting,” event co-
organizer Milbauer said.
Event organizers worked hard to dispel the myth that careers in IT are impersonal and sterile.
“They think they’ll be trapped in a cubicle or a cold equipment room, but that’s not what information
technology jobs are like anymore,” Milbauer said.
Girl Tech co-organizer and fellow information technology instructor Lori Kelley concurs with this sentiment.
“IT really is a people orientated field, as opposed to the myth that you work all alone,” Kelley said. Kelley
also stresses that IT is a learned field, opposing the notion that people are “born with” with the skills necessary
to succeed in the field.
“There is a perception that you have to have been born as some sort of science or math wiz in order to
excel in technology. It’s simply not true,” she said.
Girl Tech participants took place in a number of hands-on, tech-related activities. They programmed Lego
robots and learned to control them with handheld remotes. They took place in a wireless treasure hunt, where
their laptop served as a virtual metal detector as they prowled MATC’s Truax campus hunting for clues. They
made animated movies using the program computer “Alice,” used the 3-D building software program “Revit
Architecture” to design a home, and forensically analyzed a crime scene at a biotechnology lab.
And the girls were enthusiastic about what they learned.
“I’ve learned a ton of new computer programs,” Emma Lehker said.
“We’ve been doing a lot of technology stuff,” her friend Anna Edwards added. “We’ve worked with robots, we’ve
worked a lot with computers.
So, could it be that the notion that technology is not for girls is finally antiquated in this young group?
“It just doesn’t seem like the field is as welcoming for women,” Edwards said. “There really is the stereotype
that the tech field is for men.”
According to what Milbauer found and published in her graduate thesis, MATC is likewise not immune to
this troubling perception among females:
“The IT Network Specialist degree at MATC has seen a decreased percentage of enrollments of female
students from 41 percent enrolled in 1999 down to 18 percent enrolled in 2006. The same degree has seen a
decreased percentage in female graduates from 33 percent in 1999-00 down to 17 percent in 2005-06.”
The Girl Tech program at MATC hopes to combat these troubling numbers by getting females, at a young
age, attracted to technology. Other technical schools and universities are, likewise, following suit. Fox Valley
Technical College, Waukesha Community College and the University of Illinois-Springfield visited MATC’s Girl
Tech program this summer with plans to introduce similar programs at their institutions.
The next Girl Tech program will take place at MATC’s Truax campus on Oct. 30-31, during Wisconsin’s
statewide teacher’s convention. Milbauer and Kelley plan to continue this program annually in an effort to
reach more and more girls and, ideally, create a more egalitarian tech world.
by Laura Salinger
Kennedy Stieff, a 13-year-old eighth grader at Prairie View
Middle School in Sun Prairie, hopes to one day work as a
forensic scientist. Emma Lehker, a 13-year-old attending
Winnequah Middle School, plans on a career in biotechnology
and Anna Edwards, a 14-year-old from Stoughton Middle
School, hopes to become an architect. They have big dreams
for their future but, unfortunately, their burgeoning interest in
science and information technology related careers is a rarity
for middle school-aged girls and for females in general.
In this rapidly growing technological age, there is one very
important thing missing from the tech field: women.
According to the National Council for Research on Women,
women makeup 45 percent of the workforce, yet hold only 12
percent of science and engineering jobs. In 2000, it was
determined that upwards of 75 percent of future jobs will
require the use of computers, but fewer than 33 percent of
participants in computer courses were women, according to
U.S. labor statistics.