Need for Women in Technology-related Careers, Education Focus of Annual Conference

CHARLESTON — Under representation of women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math was the driving force behind the 2018 Women and Technology Conference held in Charleston Monday, according Anne Barth, executive director of TechConnect WV. 

“The word is starting to spread,” Barth said of the 25 percent growth in attendance this year. “I also think we’re reaching some critical mass from the private sector.” 

The day-long conference held at the Embassy Suites Hotel included presentations from successful women working in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, careers. Dr. Afrin Naz, an associate professor with the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems at West Virginia University Institute of Technology led one of the panel discussions on a mentor-protégé program she created called EMPOWER. 

“I remember when I was a young girl, I was very lucky because my mother was in a STEM career,” Naz said to the 180 conference attendees. “But unfortunately, not most of the girls from rural West Virginia have this same opportunity, so they need mentors who can be a role model for them.” 

During the past six years, Naz helped organize more than 20 workshops and camps for K-12 teachers and students. 

“I like to think that’s partly an outgrowth of this effort to shine a light on the possibilities of women and girls moving into tech and STEM fields,” Barth said. “For the opportunity for themselves, but also because it makes West Virginia a more attractive place for a tech company to come. It shows we have programs in place to prepare a workforce and that we are serious about it.” 

Many, like engineer Linda Hurst, who works as a project manager for natural gas pipeline builder TransCanada, are return attendees to the annual conference. 

“Last year I learned so much,” Hurst said. “I think being exposed to all these different people is great. Everything at the conference may not be for me, but if I share it with someone, it can really make a difference.” 

Other presenters included a keynote by Carroll Thomas, director of the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership at the National Institute of Standards and Technology from the U.S. Department of Commerce; a panel on women in manufacturing with Heather Cyphert of Precision Tool & Progressive Industries; Angie Cowger from Custard Stand Chili; Maryanne Ketelsen from Mister Bee; a discussion on promoting gender diversity in the workforce led by Zachary T. Abraham from AlignHR, LLC; and a brief address by U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who said there is a need to encourage women to pursue apprenticeship opportunities. 

“Apprenticeship dollars are coming down from the federal government,” Capito said. “We need to grab those.” 

Capito also touted the availability of federal jobs in the state, especially in the relatively new field of cybersecurity. 

“To me, that’s one of the most exiting fields that we are going to have in the nation,” she said. “We need, as West Virginia, to grab this and be the workforce for the cybersecurity future.” 

During the conference, TechConnect also handed out its annual “Spirit of Innovations Awards,” including the 2018 Outstanding Woman in Technology honoree, Associate State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kathy D’Antoni, who developed the West Virginia Simulated Workplace program. 

“I am honored, but it’s (West Virginia Simulated Workforce program) successful because of our teachers and students,” D’Antoni said after receiving the Outstanding Woman in Technology award. “Our students in West Virginia are wonderful, and it’s amazing what ideas they have, what energy they have and we need to figure out how to keep them in West Virginia.” 

The educational initiative transforms the traditional career technical classroom into an environment that emulates real places of business. 

Other Spirit of Innovation award winners included the Phoenix Award presented to Greenbrier Technical Services from Ronceverte and the Innovative Manufacturer of the Year presented to Progressive Industries / Precision Tool, both from Westover.

By:  John Dahlia
Source: The Exponent Telegram