Alexis Lanier, an electrical engineering student, has four women in her class.
According to a 2015 headcount from the Office of Institutional Research, only 15 percent of the Russ College of Engineering is female, despite the fact that technology is a “lucrative” field.
“There’s a lot of guys so (women) think they shouldn’t do it,” Lanier, a sophomore, said. “It’s definitely intimidating because it’s new to me, and I feel like the guys have always been really into it.”
J.J. DiGeronimo is no stranger to the frustrations those current students experience. As a 1995 OU alumna from the J. Warren McClure School of Information and Telecommunication Systems, DiGeronimo said most of her classes were at least 75 percent men.
Like many students, DiGeronimo’s main goal was to come out of college with a job. Because the ITS school was known at the time for a 100 percent job placement after graduation, pursuing a degree in communication systems management made sense.
“I was great in math,” she said. “I was great with numbers and science. ... It was important for me to learn a feasible skillset the marketplace was looking for.”
As a keynote speaker and advocate for girls in STEM, DiGeronimo said gender stereotypes and inaccurate perceptions of the field can hinder a woman’s decision to enter the technology field.
“There’s some perceptions that it’s really geeky, that it’s a lot of coding, that they're not going to fit in,” she said. “They don’t know people in the field to get experience or even ask questions of what it might be like. … There’s some preconceived notions that (women) are not going to like it.”
In most career fields, research shows women make 78 cents for every dollar a man makes, but in STEM fields, DiGeronimo said women make 92 cents for every dollar a man makes.
“As a whole, women in any field and men in any field should be about equal (numbers) just because it’s different points of view,” Katie Meeks, a sophomore studying biological sciences, said. “You are able to get a lot of different points of view and you are able to make more informed decisions.”
Although DiGeronimo said the lack of women in her college classes was unfortunate, she viewed it as a great preparation for the professional world.
“Most of my career, I have often been the only woman at the table,” she said. “Obtaining a degree that had more men than women prepared me for the workforce. I really didn’t have a lot of fear. I had already worked through some of my concerns about being the only woman.”
Meeks said her mother, a high school biology teacher, inspired her to pursue her dreams in STEM.
“Throughout elementary and middle school, I thought I didn’t like science,” Meeks said. “Once I came into high school and saw what my mother was doing, it made me want to do something better with my life.”
Though it helps to have representation in the field, DiGeronimo said those role models don’t always have to be female.
“I had a lot of great male mentors in my program that helped move me in the right direction,” she said. “You don’t necessarily have to look for the same gender. A lot of women look up to fathers, uncles, professors. It’s about getting around good people willing to help you in your career.”
Lanier agrees. She said her professors, who are primarily male, have been incredibly helpful because many of them are encouraging female participation in STEM fields.
“A lot of women tend to take support roles instead of the lead roles,” DiGeronimo said. “Don’t talk yourself out of the lead role. ... Keep at it. It’s more about perseverance and persistence oftentimes than it is about how high of an IQ you have and how well you’ve done in your classes.”