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Expanding Opportunities

10/27/2010

The National Science Foundation reports that women earn only 20.5 percent of all bachelor's degrees in computer science. But despite an industry-wide shortage of women in technology, more than half of this year's computer science graduates at MCLA were women.

"Computers don't care about gender," said Mike Dalton, chair of MCLA's computer science department. "The antiquated notion that females are not technically inclined finally seems to be fading in today's educational institutions, as well as in the job market. Businesses that remain hung up on issues such as race and gender are sure to fall behind as more employers face struggling economic times and fierce competition from other countries."

According to Dalton, MCLA's computer science majors are bright young students who work together to find innovative solutions to today's technical problems. April Johnson '10 of North Adams, Mass., is no exception. She now works at Eenable, Inc., an IT company in Bennington, Vt.

"I very much enjoyed MCLA," said Johnson. "I found a very rare treat in the computer science department. It is very unique in that the professors are not afraid to chat with their students; they care a great deal about each student, and are always willing to help."

Several MCLA professors were her favorites.

"The computer science department professors stood out more than any," Johnson said. "David Eve, Mike Dalton and Fran Duncan are probably my most favorite. Each of them have a unique way of teaching, but all three are incredible teachers.

"Dave has a unique way of explaining things so that you will never forget," she explained. "Mike will keep you interested and throw weird stuff in the middle of his lectures, just to see if you are paying attention. Fran is so energetic about Web development that you can't help but like her. The thing I like the most about all three of them is that they respect their students and really listen to them when they have a question."

While at the College, Johnson served as president of the MCLA Computer Society. In addition, Eve arranged for her to serve an internship in the information technology department at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), which she began in the summer of 2008. She remained in that part-time position until she moved to the full-time position at Eenable last July.

Johnson found her MASS MoCA internship helpful in that it gave her self-confidence and allowed her to acquire additional skills. While her job at Eenable is providing Johnson with experience in the field, she aims to enter a master's program in a couple of years.

Dalton said the present challenge is to see that women entering college are not discouraged from study in the technical fields.

"Given my experience teaching, I am convinced that on the average, male and female students do equally well in these areas. The only reason we see fewer female engineers and software developers is that many females are not confident enough in their own abilities, and thus do not choose to major in these fields. But this is changing, and our recent graduating class is strong evidence of this," he said.