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Innovative Program Empowers Female Students in Technology

Program Strives to Help Women Students in Tech Feel Less Isolated
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Program Strives to Help Women Students in Tech Feel Less Isolated

Jacqueline Deprey says she’s always been a bit of a tomboy.

Jacqueline Deprey (center, in maroon cardigan), a computer science student, works on a project with classmates in a game design and development class, Jan. 28, 2020, at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md. (Julie Taboh/VOA)
Jacqueline Deprey (center, in maroon cardigan), a computer science student, works on a project with classmates in a game design and development class, Jan. 28, 2020, at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md. (Julie Taboh/VOA)

So perhaps it’s no surprise that she’s been drawn to a field that typically attracts more men than women.

Deprey’s love of computer science in particular was realized in high school when one of her teachers recognized her talent and drew her attention to it.

“I don’t know if it’s because I was good at it, that I enjoyed it, or if it was vice versa, but she really was the first one to point out this passion of mine, and the more computer science classes I took, the more I kind of fell in love with it,” she said.

Deprey said she especially enjoys working on projects that can be applied to the real world.

“And so I found that that tied in nicely with my side love for business, since in computer science we learn, what are the best ways to collect data to organize it? What are the fastest algorithms to sort it?” she said.

Deprey is now a senior at the University of Maryland where she’s double majoring in computer science, and operations management and business analytics.

Hidden figures

Deprey said she credits much of her success to a collaboration between her school and AnitaB.Org, a global nonprofit that’s helping advance women in technology.

Stephanie Rodriguez, vice president of policy and engagement for the organization, works with the university and 14 other institutions on an annual basis through a project they call BRAID.

“It stands for Building, Recruiting and Inclusion and Diversity,” Rodriguez said. “And it really focuses on a few strategies that leaders in undergraduate computer science departments can take to build more inclusive campuses.”

What started as a small group of women online in the early days of the internet has grown into a coalition of millions of women around the world, Rodriquez said.

The organization’s flagship event is the annual Grace Hopper Celebration, which is the world’s largest gathering of women in technology.

Deprey was one of more than 26,000 people attending the celebration in Florida last year.

“Through attending that conference, I think I was able to really recognize this passion in me and to know that there are other people who are fighting the same fight, who are also striving for equality,” Deprey said.

The opportunity also provided her with motivation, she said, to pursue her academic and professional career.

It was her second time at the conference.

Women technologists

“The first time, I was captivated by how many other women technologists were there, and it was truly inspiring to see the magnitude that was women in computing,” she said.

“Even if on a day-to-day I might have felt a little bit alone, just to have that support and know that these other women were fighting for the same things that I was, even if they weren’t always present or within sight of my support, was truly inspiring.”

It is not unusual for women like Deprey to feel that sense of isolation.

Women and minorities pursuing computer science degrees often feel alone in a field that is overwhelmingly dominated by men. While about 60 percent of all 2017 bachelor’s degree recipients in the U.S. were women, females made up only about 20 percent of computer and information science bachelor’s degree recipients, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT).

Jan Plane, a faculty member in the computer science department, is director of the Maryland Center for Women in Computing at the university.

A large part of her job is coordinating that needed support.

“We were working as a small organization, the Center for Women, trying to improve the culture for the women that are here,” Plane said. “And what BRAID did was bring a more national and upper-level administration emphasis to it. ... With having our chair involved, the data we were able to collect and the programs we were able to do, [it] just grew at an exponential rate.”

“We have increased since 2014, when we had around 300 women in our computer science program, to now 738 who are majoring in computer science,” she said. “Women need to feel empowered to do whichever kind of job they want to do. When they are such an underrepresented minority, women tend to shy away from these fields.”

Plane emphasized that in today’s job market, diversity is more important than ever.

“Financially, for the global economy, we need more people who are technologically educated, because there’s a lot of jobs, they’re very good jobs, and they also influence the design of things that are coming. And if women are not involved, it’s not going to represent them,” she said.

Plane also noted that research has shown “that diverse teams make the best products, and if not all voices are heard, then we’re not going to get the best products.”

Deprey agrees.

“I think by really trying to promote minority groups and giving them a seat at this table like BRAID has done with the University of Maryland, we’re able to take advantage of all of our different perspectives and really see what technology is capable of. And I’m really excited to be a part of that feature,” she said.

After graduating this summer, Deprey plans to move to New York City, where she will start in a full-time software engineering position with the file-hosting service Dropbox.

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More than 70 U.S. universities continue to hold human remains taken from Native American burial sites, although those remains were supposed to be returned 30 years ago.

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When Samantha (not her real name) enrolled in community college in the U.S., her family at home in South Africa scrimped and saved to support her.

But the COVID-19 pandemic hurt the family’s finances, and at one point Samantha had four on-campus jobs just to make ends meet. Many in the U.S. believe international students are wealthy sources of funding for universities, but stories like Samantha’s suggest otherwise.

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NAIA all but bans its transgender college athletes from women's sports

FILE - NAIA women’s basketball players gather after a game in St. Louis, Feb. 22, 2024. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the governing body for mostly small colleges, said Monday that transgender athletes would be all but banned from women's sports.
FILE - NAIA women’s basketball players gather after a game in St. Louis, Feb. 22, 2024. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the governing body for mostly small colleges, said Monday that transgender athletes would be all but banned from women's sports.

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the governing body for mostly small colleges, announced a policy Monday that all but bans transgender athletes from competing in women's sports.

The NAIA's Council of Presidents approved the policy in a 20-0 vote. The NAIA, which oversees some 83,000 athletes at schools across the country, is believed to be the first college sports organization to take such a step.

According to the transgender participation policy, all athletes may participate in NAIA-sponsored male sports but only athletes whose biological sex assigned at birth is female and have not begun hormone therapy will be allowed to participate in women's sports.

A student who has begun hormone therapy may participate in activities such as workouts, practices and team activities, but not in interscholastic competition.

"With the exception of competitive cheer and competitive dance, the NAIA created separate categories for male and female participants," the NAIA said. "Each NAIA sport includes some combination of strength, speed and stamina, providing competitive advantages for male student-athletes. As a result, the NAIA policy for transgender student-athletes applies to all sports except for competitive cheer and competitive dance, which are open to all students."

There is no known number of transgender athletes at the high school and college levels, though it is believed to be small. The topic has become a hot-button issue for those for and against transgender athletes competing on girls' and women's sports teams.

At least 24 states have laws barring transgender women and girls from competing in certain women's or girls sports competitions. Last month, more than a dozen current and former college athletes filed a federal lawsuit against the NCAA, accusing the sports governing body for more than 500,000 athletes of violating their rights by allowing transgender women to compete in women's sports.

The Biden administration originally planned to release a new federal Title IX rule — the law forbids discrimination based on sex in education — addressing both campus sexual assault and transgender athletes. But earlier this year, the department decided to split them into separate rules, and the athletics rule now remains in limbo even as the sexual assault policy moves forward.

Hours after the NAIA announcement, the NCAA released a statement: "College sports are the premier stage for women's sports in America and the NCAA will continue to promote Title IX, make unprecedented investments in women's sports and ensure fair competition for all student-athletes in all NCAA championships."

The NCAA has had a policy for transgender athlete participation in place since 2010, which called for one year of testosterone suppression treatment and documented testosterone levels submitted before championship competitions. In 2022, the NCAA revised its policies on transgender athlete participation in an attempt to align with national sport governing bodies, following the lead of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

The three-phase implementation of the policy included a continuation of the 2010 policy, requiring transgender women to be on hormone replacement therapy for at least one year, plus the submission of a hormone-level test before the start of both the regular season and championship events.

The third phase adds national and international sport governing body standards to the NCAA's policy and is scheduled to be implemented for the 2024-25 school year on August 1.

There are some 15.3 million public high school students in the United States and a 2019 study by the CDC estimated 1.8% of them — about 275,000 — are transgender. The number of athletes within that group is much smaller; a 2017 survey by Human Rights Campaign suggested fewer than 15% of all transgender boys and transgender girls play sports.

The number of NAIA transgender athletes would be far smaller.

Humanities degrees are tougher sell for international students 

FILE - People walk near the campus center at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., Dec. 9, 2013.
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That’s the argument of one Princeton undergraduate from South Korea.

OPT, the government program that allows college students to work in the US for a short time after graduation without securing a work visa, is biased toward STEM degree holders.

As a result, many international students forego humanities, or choose tech or consulting jobs when their passions lie elsewhere.

Read Siyeon Lee’s argument in the Princetonian. (March 2024)

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