Tech Savvy promotes women in IT

Debra Howell
Meryl Bursic conducts a workshop at Tech Savvy.

Tech Savvy is a one-day event designed to show sixth- through ninth-grade girls firsthand how science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) pursuits can lead to exciting careers. Tech Savvy events happen all over the country and are sponsored by the American Association of University Women (AAUW). This year’s regional program, held April 1 at Tompkins Cortland Community College, featured a number of women IT professionals from Cornell’s information technology offices.

Girls attended Savvy Skills workshops throughout the day, including Practicing the Four Cs of STEM (collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking); Power Pose: Building Confident Strategies for Life, and a session on IT security from Meryl Bursic, senior security engineer and team lead in Cornell’s IT Security Office. 

Bursic’s workshop was a collaborative exercise on polyalphabetic cipher recipes used to send secret messages and brainstorm different schemes for creating strong, unique passwords. Enthusiasm and excitement were evident from the young women who participated. “Their innate level of intuition on technical topics and critical thinking was immediately apparent,” Bursic said. “They were eager to relay their own experiences and ideas, and ask many questions along the way.” She added, “Given my late-blooming status as a technologist, and late entry into the IT and STEM fields at large, I can’t help but think how great it is that these young women have events like this to encourage them—to give them the space for discussion, experimentation, and confidence at a critical age of learning.”

Additionally, girls and their families visited the STEM and resource fairs to learn more about available opportunities, and gain inspiration from an array of women in technology. For the third consecutive year, women from IT@Cornell participated in the resource fair. This year’s representatives were Patrice Prusko, Debra Howell, Julia Leonard, Laurie Collinsworth, Chloe DeShong and Meryl Bursic. 

Patrice Prusko, an instructional designer in Academic Technologies at Cornell, who’s in her third year volunteering and helping to organize the event, said, “I continue to be inspired by these amazing young women, and appreciate the opportunity to share information about how MOOCs might be an entryway for women into STEM. It's important we support events such as this, and other efforts, to change the cultural stereotypes and discrimination that still exist in the STEM fields.” 

Cornell’s IT training program assistant Julia Leonard, who volunteered for her third year, said, “I am still thrilled to see the joy and enthusiasm on the faces of so many young ladies as they talk with others about all things science, technology, engineering, and math.”

Learn more about Tech Savvy and the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

Debra Howell is the director of information technology for the Division of Infrastructure, Properties and Planning.