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Majors & Degrees

Number of women on the rise in DSU’s Beacom College

May 23, 2018

Cyber sciences may be a male-dominated field, but the number of women majoring in technology programs at Dakota State University is on the rise.

Over the last five years, there has been a 296 percent increase in the number of women enrolled in programs of the Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences, majors including computer science, cyber operations, and network security and administration. The number of women in undergraduate majors in 2017 was 103, up from 26 in 2013. Graduate numbers have increased as well, with seven women seeking doctoral degrees in 2017; there were none in 2013.

Growth in the number of programs and overall awareness of DSU’s offerings has contributed to the increase, said Dr. Pam Rowland, assistant professor of computer science and cyber security, but another associated factor is the outreach program CybHER.

Rowland and fellow faculty member Dr. Ashley Podhradsky developed the CybHER program in 2013 to empower, motivate, educate and change the perception of women and girls in cybersecurity fields. They have held 60 outreach events in the region in the last five years. Through these free camps, school visits, and exploration days, over 10,000 girls from preschool through high school age have been impacted. A recently released five-year summary about CybHER notes the 296 percent increase in female student numbers in cyber programs.

Rowland is certain that the one-to-one connections made at these events result in young women’s decisions to choose technology careers.

At a national conference this spring, Rowland heard a freshman college student specifically mention DSU’s summer GenCyber camp as a factor in her decision to study cyber security in college. The young woman shared that she came to camp not knowing anything about cyber sciences, and was particularly confused in programming class. A faculty member helped her until she understood the concepts.

“That one-to-one connection with somebody who really cared had a huge impact for her,” Rowland said. She has heard similar stories from young high school women from North and South Dakota who receive Aspirations in Computing awards from the National Center for Women & Technology (NCWIT), a ceremony that takes place annually at DSU.

The impact of personal connections is obvious, too, in the number of students who attend a summer camp and decide to enroll in DSU. “It is certainly fulfilling to watch the impact of CybHER,” Rowland stated.

Podhradsky is encouraged by the confident attitude of the young girls they reach with CybHER events. “Young women are no longer intimidated by technology,” she said. They are also starting to see a gender-blind outlook with regards to technology careers. “They don’t see themselves as women in a male-dominated field, they see themselves as potential valued employees,” Podhradsky stated. 

Over the next five years, they hope to offer more outreach opportunities which will lead to lasting impacts, Podhradsky stated. These will include: social media connections (CybHER Seconds); short educational videos (CybHER Minutes); motivational videos by leading women in technology (CybHER Hours); and day-long learning events (CybHER Days). She and Rowland are currently seeking funding to develop these connections; sponsors of other program features include the National Security Agency, National Science Foundation, Citibank, AT&T, SDN Communications, NCWIT, SBS CyberSecurity, Inc., First Bank & Trust, and Sanford Health.

For Rowland, a future goal will be visible at commencement ceremonies. “I can’t wait until the line of Beacom College graduates has an equal number of men and women.”

More information is available at CybHER.org.