/b> to address the longstanding issues surrounding the gender gap in IT.
CWIT Advisory Board Member Anne Spence, a lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering with a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering, understands the challenges of being a woman in a technical field. �One of my college professors told me that women should not be engineers, so I got the highest grade in the class to prove him wrong,� she says. �When I graduated with my degree I had six job offers. I did encounter initial resistance as an engineer at Bell Helicopter, but I was always able to get rid of the resistance by proving myself.�
�Motivating girls to get involved in IT requires that we offer opportunities for them to work with computers in non-threatening environments,� Spence adds. �Computer Mania is one of those environments. It also gives the girls an opportunity to meet role models � from college age women to business leaders and college faculty.�
Spence believes that Computer Mania will help diminish the �geek� stereotype that discourages young girls from IT and will provide resources to help them understand the importance of technology in every aspect of their lives. �Most girls start to lose interest in math and science during middle school. It is crucial that we keep them engaged during those years to make sure that they are taking upper level math, science, computer and engineering courses when they reach high school,� she says.
As a child, Spence says that both she and her brother were �raised to do anything we wanted to do. My father was an engineering professor and my mother an elementary school teacher. Often, we would go to a field near our house to launch the model rockets we had built � I thought that was normal! So it never really occurred to me that I could not succeed.�
Because not every young girl is so lucky, Spence set out to provide mentors for her female students at UMBC. She is advisor for the University�s chapter of Mentor Net, a national program that provides mentors for women studying engineering and computer science. �Some of the young women in my classes are not only the first member of their family to major in engineering but they are often the first member of their family to attend a university,� she explains. �This is a very difficult position since, often, they have very little support from home. That’s where my own role as mentor comes in to play. I can encourage them and show them that women can succeed in the field.�
Spence hopes to continue inspiring both girls and boys alike to learn more about engineering at an earlier age. She recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a program that will introduce engineering in middle and high school algebra classes across Maryland. �The students will see how algebra is used to solve engineering problems, not just how many apples and oranges you can buy for one dollar,� she says. When she�s not at UMBC, Spence is incorporating practical hands-on projects and engineering challenges at Oak Hill Elementary in her hometown of Severna Park, Maryland.