Growing up, Amanda Lanham never considered her gender as a detriment in discussing future aspirations. With a mother who has made it her mission to encourage young girls to take interest in the field of technology, Lanham joined in that mission by following her passion for the arts and enrolling in Hodges University’s digital design and graphics program.
While in high school, Hodges University became somewhat of a second home to Lanham. As the daughter of Tracey Lanham, associate dean of the Fisher School of Technology (FSoT), Lanham volunteered at various school and tech-related events. Familiar with many of Hodges’ faculty members, especially those in the FSoT, Lanham began having conversations with Professor Chip McElroy, who introduced her to the idea of graphic design.
“I’ve always enjoyed creating things, and as my mom calls it, I like the ‘warm, fuzzy’ side of technology,” Lanham said.
Starting in a dual major of information systems business analyst and digital design and graphics, Lanham had difficulty processing more of the “hardcore” tech material, which was noticed by her professor, Jim Nichols.
“Professor Nichols could tell I was having a hard time understanding the material, as it was a bit over my head. He told me that maybe this wasn’t the right fit for me and even though it wasn’t his degree program, he helped push me toward a course that was better for me,” she said.
Focusing her time solely on digital design and graphics, Lanham is able to embrace her creative side, all while learning from professors who have experience working in the field.
“What I really enjoy about this program is that I can build my skills, not just regurgitate facts,” she explained. As part of the program, students must build a portfolio using projects created in class, as well as any projects created for outside organizations.
“The professors are always telling us about opportunities to create something for a local organization or business, which we can add to our portfolios,” she said. Lanham was given the opportunity to design a few logos for Hodges, as well as a t-shirt design for the Veterans Services Center’s R.E.D. Friday initiative.
Working as a graphic designer for a small print company, Lanham was able to transfer the skills learned in class and immediately apply them to her work, which heightened her excitement of being in a program that allows for practical application of skills.
Not only has Lanham been able to practice her skills in the workforce, but as president of the Technology Society, she and fellow society members set up the network for Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc. in Cape Coral in 2016. Under the guidance of Nichols, members set up computers, printers, internet, as well as all the necessary servers and Wi-Fi access.
In addition to their work with local organizations such as Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc. Lanham and fellow society members devoted their time to teaching young children at local elementary schools about coding, programming and other tech-related activities.
“They say the best way to learn is to teach, and as part of the [White House’s] #CSforAll (Computer Science for All) initiative, we go into schools and teach kids how to code and create programs,” she explained. “We even have tech nights at local high schools, and while Hodges representatives are talking to the parents about coming to school at Hodges, we’re showing the kids all the fun things you can do with technology.”
As a result of her mother’s involvement in the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), Lanham, society members and fellow FSoT students participate in the annual NCWIT banquet, as well as AspireIT camps, which are held on Hodges’ Fort Myers and Naples campuses each summer to teach girls in grades 6-12 about coding, game and app development, digital design and robotics.
“I couldn’t tell you how many photos I have of these girls building fans out of Snap Circuits, which look like Legos that you snap together, but you’re actually building electrical currents, so you’re learning engineering, math and science,” Lanham explained. “Once they hit a point where they’re learning and playing, and they don’t realize they’re learning, you start seeing them problem-solve and trying to make their fan fly higher.”
Watching young girls get excited about technology only spurs Lanham’s excitement in her own journey. Although she sees many women in her digital design classes, she is well aware of the stigma associated with women in technology.
“There is this unfortunate societal dictation as to what women can do for work and what men can do for work,” she said, but because of organizations like NCWIT and individuals like Lanham’s mother, strides are being made to encourage more and more young girls to think about a future career in technology.
“My mother is a true inspiration to everyone she meets. Earning her two degrees from Hodges and being the only woman in her degree program, she is the student Hodges was built for. I am inspired by her every day,” Lanham shared.
Preparing to graduate with her associate degree in winter 2018, Lanham is already planning to earn her bachelor’s degree by 2020, and although her plans beyond school are uncertain, she is keeping her eyes open on opportunities in Target’s marketing department.
“I would love to work for a big company like Disney or a local theme park like Universal or SeaWorld, but my more realistic goal is to pursue an opportunity with Target,” she said.