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LFCC student Ashleigh Tuthill participates in a cybersecurity competition. Lord Fairfax’s cybersecurity teams enter several competitions every year. 

Lord Fairfax Community College has received a $10,000 grant that will be used to encourage more women to study computing. The college is one of five U.S. institutions to receive the 2019 National Center for Women & Information Technology Academic Alliance Seed Fund, “Surging Enrollments” track grant. The grant aims to help schools “increase girls’ and women’s meaningful participation in computing.  

Other winners of the grant were Southern New Hampshire University, Georgia State University, Michigan State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. 

According to the American Association of University Women, women make up only 12 percent of engineers and 26 percent of computing professionals. There were about 90 students in LFCC’s computer science program this year; five are female. 

LFCC computer science professor Melissa Stange applied for the NCWIT grant, which will be used to expand high school outreach; evaluate marketing materials for gender bias; amend course content to “ensure greater student access; to invite guest speakers, and to produce two summer camps that will prepare incoming computer students for course success.  

Stange said May 20 that the grant they won “provided a social scientist to guide us in the modifications to our marketing. The project will take at least a year to implement and we expect it will take at least another year to fully see the benefits. We will be looking for additional grants to continue the summer camps and possibly extend it into other STEAM areas.” 

She said, “I started my technology career as a second-shift computer operator at Project Hope in Millwood, Virginia, and have worked in a variety of industries and positions -- systems support specialist, applications developer, systems analyst, website designer, project manager and applications administrator. I came to LFCC because I wanted to make a difference and to encourage other young ladies to go into a technology field.” 

Stange, who has a doctorate in applied management and decision sciences, began as an adjunct professor in 2004 and was hired full-time in 2015. “I am the only full-time computer science faculty and the only female technology faculty member,” she said. 

Technology camps 

This summer, adjunct professor Dong Truong and Stange hosted two summer camps. One was a week-long college freshman camp, the other a three-day high school freshman camp, and both aimed to provide computational skills and a programming foundation before the start of the school year. These “camps are for females, led by female faculty and female tutors,” said a news release from the college.They are free for participants. 

Women in computing 

LFCC’s administration supports Dr. Stange’s vision and passion for improvingLFCC’s computer science program to ensure student success,” said Dean of Academic, Student Affairs and Outreach Brenda Byard in a press release.  

In 2016, women earned 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in the U.S.,” she said, “but only 19 percent of those degrees were in computer and information sciences. Introducing engaging tech-related activities and opportunities can help reverse this trend. 

“These Seed Fund programs leverage effective recruitment strategies to attract women to computing,” said National Center for Women & Information Technology CEO and co-founder Lucy Sanders in the release. “Increasing women’s participation will lead to a more innovative and competitive technology workforce.” 

The NCWIT website states that “computing underpins every other STEM discipline as a highly versatile and sought-after skillset that is essential in today’s information economy,” adding that, “The U.S. Department of Labor estimates 1.1 million computing-related job openings in the U.S. by 2024, two-thirds of which could go unfilled due to the insufficient pool of college graduates with computing related degrees.” 

Even though computing jobs offer some of the highest salaries available, states NCWIT’s grant material,we’re failing to make computing education accessible to all and attract diverse talent to the discipline.  

NCWIT is a nonprofit aggregate of some 1,100 universities, businesses, nonprofits and government organizations working to raise the number of females substantially contributing to the field of computing. Find out more atwww.ncwit.org. 

Lord Fairfax Community College, part of theVirginia Community College system, operates four campuses: Fauquier, Middletown, Luray-Page and Vint Hill. It serves seven counties and one city and enrolls 9,400 students. Studies can lead to an associate of science degree or a career studies certificate.Visit LFCC’s website at https://lfcc.edu. 

Reach Karen Chaffraix at kchaffraix@fauquier.com 

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