In a field dominated by men, Hodges University Professor Tracey Lanham is working to break down barriers and inspire a new generation of young women to make a difference in the world of technology.
Earning her associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer information technology (CIT) at Hodges, Lanham was the first and only female in the 2004 graduating class of her master’s CIT program. “I know what it is like to be the only woman in a room full of men who are pursuing a career in technology,” she said.
In 2009, Lanham decided to join Hodges’ faculty by becoming an adjunct, which ultimately led to her accepting the position of vice chair of the computer information technology program in 2012. In discussion with a former colleague, Lanham was asked to be a part of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). It wasn’t until she attended an NCWIT Summit that her passion for young women in technology grew, saying, “I was asked by Dr. Al Ball to attend the summit. While I was there, they were discussing the lack of women in technology careers and how that has to change.”
Since then, Lanham has pursued her passion full force by serving as the regional coordinator for the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Awards event, which is presented to high school girls with computing-related interests and achievements. Seeing a need to inspire younger girls, she currently organizes and hosts AspireIT Programming camps for middle schools in the area. The program is now serving girls in grades K-12.
“AspireIT is a near-peer teaching experience. It allows these middle school girls to come to Hodges’ campus and work with college students and Aspirations in Computing award winners. They learn leadership skills, programming and computational skills, and it all happens in a fun and encouraging environment,” she said. “Young girls look at the world differently and that is why we need them in technology. My passion is to help and provide them with the tools and resources needed to make a difference and help humanity.”
As a technology professional, Lanham sees the overwhelming male influence in technology, especially in the video gaming industry. While young boys are using video games to network with other players, and play games that include violence, gore and an unrealistic portrayal of women, young girls do not see the appeal and often fail to benefit from the social aspects technology can provide.
However, through programs and organizations such as NCWIT, Lanham hopes to show young girls how to come up with solutions and be creators of technology. As faculty adviser of the Fisher School of Technology Society (FSOT), Lanham often encourages her students to volunteer at local events designed to inspire the minds of young girls. These include the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Stem Conference, the STEMtastic Day of Discovery and technology fairs. Lanham’s FSOT Society members are going a step further and planning to adopt a local elementary school. “We plan to volunteer at the school once or twice a month and help the kids to become engaged in technology through robotics, programming and other fun and exciting activities,” she said.
Hailed by her peers for her efforts to introduce young girls to the career fields in technology, in 2013, she received the Anita Borg Systers Pass-It-On Award, which recognizes individuals who bring together women in technology to help one another.
“Tracey is simply amazing. I’ve known her since 2002 and she is incredibly driven, a hard worker and knows how to get things done,” said Dr. Al Ball, dean of the Fisher School of Technology.
When asked what her ultimate goal is, she smiled saying, “I just want to inspire women to try what is out there. I know entering into a technology-based career field is not for everyone, but if I can help open a door to women and help them to see what is on the other side, that is my goal.”