Women’s History Month, celebrated each year in March, is an opportunity to recognize all the achievements and contributions of women to society. It originally began in 1978 as a week-long local celebration in California and included March 8, International Women’s Day since 1911. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first presidential proclamation to declare the week of March 8.and as part of National Women’s History Week.
The celebration turned into a month-long commemoration in 1987 when Congress passed legislation declaring March Women’s History Month. Since 1995, each president has issued an annual proclamation to continue the tradition of honoring women during the month of March.
To honor this Women’s History Month, the Life section of the Technical in this issue is dedicated to celebrating current and past women tech who are and are now having a positive impact on and off campus.
The history of women at Tech began in 1952 when the first female students, Elizabeth Herndon and Diane Michel, enrolled at Tech. In 1960, the first female faculty member, Mary Katherine Cabell, was hired as a math teacher. The early days of female enrollment at Tech gave the Institute its infamous ratio problem. In 1970, women represented only 1.6% of Tech graduates. Since then, many strides have been made to bring gender equality to campus. In the Early Action 1 profile for 2022, 52% of admitted students were female and the remaining 48% were male.
At Tech, honoring Women’s History Month often includes celebrating women in STEM.
Each year, the Center for the Study of Women, Science and Technology (WST) hosts a distinguished conference open to the tech community and the public to honor “outstanding contributors to understanding and positive impact for women, science and technology”.
Founded in 1999, WST seeks to promote the recruitment, retention and advancement of female students and faculty in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It also seeks to link issues of study of science and technology to gender, culture and society through research and education.
This year, Dr. Gilda Barabino, current President of Olin College of Engineering, spoke at the WST Distinguished Lecture. Barabino is a chemical engineer by training and has held various professorships and deanships at engineering schools across the country. Barabino also previously worked at Tech where she was Associate Chair for Graduate Studies and Professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering and Senior Vice Provost for Academic Diversity.
Barabino’s lecture, titled “Making the Invisible Visible: Leadership for Science and Engineering Careers,” focused on the hidden systems and behaviors that establish detrimental equity gaps between majority and minority populations. Barabino suggested that leaders need to make marginalized individuals and their contributions visible, as this is necessary for future progress in building inclusive science enterprises.
To begin his presentation, Barabino shared his perspective on the current state of science and engineering.
“The careers of racially minority groups and women are set back,” Barabino said. “There is a shortage of female leaders, and the lack of women of color is particularly acute.”
Barabino then discussed her own personal experiences as a black academic, sharing stories about former students and librarians who at first glance assumed she was neither a professor nor a faculty member. Barabino also mentioned several social science research studies, reports and conceptual frameworks.
Barabino ended his presentation on a note of hope saying, “The road ahead may be difficult, but it is doable.
This month, the College of Computing is also celebrating women in STEM by sharing stories of women in computing on their website: womenshistorymonth.cc.gatech.edu.
Dana Randall, ADVANCE Professor of Computer Science and Adjunct Professor of Mathematics, shared her thoughts on the advancement of women in society over the past few years.
“We’ve really come a long way, and now we’re seeing women on the Georgia Tech campus in all areas of leadership have a heard voice,” Randall said. “It’s really amazing how many female students have come to campus…History tells you that hasn’t always been the case, and when I started in STEM, there were very few of female role models and mentors, and now it’s just a bustling community. We all support and rely on each other.
Honoring Women’s History Month can also mean celebrating women’s sports on campus. The women’s basketball team was the first women’s sports team to receive varsity status at Tech in 1974. This season, the team was recently selected to compete in the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.
Earlier this month, Present Ángel Cabrera spoke with Nell Fortner, head coach of the women’s basketball team.
To start the conversation, Cabrera said, “Nell Fortner…has created an amazing program that I love to watch every chance I get.”
Fortner coached top programs throughout his career and even led the United States National Team to an Olympic gold medal in 2000.
She described her perspective on the basketball team and the importance of women’s sports to Cabrera.
“It’s an exciting game. I think we have hard working athletes. I think we’re a fun team to watch,” Fortner said. “One of the best things about women’s sport is our accessibility… We want to talk to people… We get on the pitch and we play hard. It’s a fun game to watch, and we’ll tell you hello after the game.
The evidence that women are succeeding is always evident across campus, not just during Women’s History Month. Some of this success can be attributed to the Institute’s support programs, including Leading [email protected], Women of Color Initiative (WOCI) and the WST Learning Community who provide beneficial resources and events. To visit diversity.gatech.edu for more information on these programs and gender equality issues.