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Faculty members study gender inequities in IT field

Women are the minority among those who enter information technology programs as first-year students, and they are much more likely to drop out than their male classmates. Two faculty members from RIT’s B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences are exploring this troubling trend.

Tona Henderson, left, and Elizabeth Lawley are leading RIT's study into gender issues in information technology.

The National Science Foundation is funding the work by Elizabeth Lane Lawley and Tona Henderson through a grant valued at nearly $325,000. Their two-year study will focus on undergraduate women in IT departments.

Lawley and Henderson are conducting a qualitative study of women who entered RIT’s IT program this fall. The students will be interviewed at various points of the academic year to identify factors relating to their persistence or attrition. They also will develop a questionnaire for faculty and students intended to identify the presence and influence of those factors in academic departments. The questionnaire will be administered to women entering IT departments across the United States in order to determine whether the RIT findings are comparable to those at other institutions.

“The goal of the study would be not only to answer these questions,” explains Lawley, “but also to develop recommendations for IT program recruiting, curricula and student support, based on those answers.”

“RIT has made a major commitment to addressing retention problems, and institutional support for research on this topic is strong,” says Henderson.

More information on the project is available at http://women.it.rit.edu.