Rutgers ITI program expands opportunities for women in technical fields
With the rise of the information technology and informatics (ITI) major in the School of Communication and Information, the Women in ITI (WITI) group aims to provide a sense of community to the students, as well as networking opportunities.
Founded in 2014 by ITI program director Sharon Stoerger and assistant professor Rebecca Reynolds, who wanted women to have more representation in the field, WITI started its first year as academically oriented organization, said WITI co-President Manisha Medidi.
“We wanted to bridge the gap between students and the corporate world so they have the opportunity to rehearse and get all the opportunities that are out there,” the School of Arts and Sciences senior said.
The group holds networking sessions, programs for resume building and provides opportunities for students to connect to representatives from corporations and learn about their work environment.
WITI comes in with the recent boom in ITI majors, enabling them to finally separate from other STEM fields to form their own organizations.
Typically grouped together, there is a divide between the computer science and ITI students because the curriculums do not match, said Kahini Amin, a WITI co-president and a School of Arts and Sciences senior .
“The women in computer science group (has) been pretty active on campus, so it’s good to have something different,” she said.
The WITI does not accept just women. In fact, the group's fundraising chair Vivek Singh, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, is part of the ITI Council and joined WITI to help them expand, he said.
While the 2014-2015 board consisted of only women, WITI noticed that men were just as interested in the organization as women were. The group sees about an equal ratio of men to women at their events, Amin said.
“That’s a good sign for us,” Medidi said. “It lets us know that our events are making an impact, that they’re making use of it. They are taking advantage of the opportunities that are out there.”
WITI’s events have had turnouts of more than 40 people. The organization hosts a “WITI Talks” series that highlights different sectors of the IT sector during each event, she said. Last week the group targeted consulting, with a presentation featuring panelists from Deloitte, Ernst & Young and Accenture.
Students had plenty of questions, and the representatives stayed back to network with them, Medidi said.
Madiha Irfan, a School of Arts and Sciences junior who serves as the board’s executive assistant and will be the president in the next academic year, has seen the group work for her.
After winning the 2015 Johnson & Johnson Case Competition with her group. She said she was then offered a Johnson & Johnson summer internship, all through WITI. She also found her current co-op with UPS through WITI after handing over a resume to a representative at a WITI event.
“My sister is a recent graduate and she comes to the events too, and she really loves them,” Irfan said. “So guys, girls, undergrads, grads, everyone can make use of it.”
In addition to networking and corporate-based events, the club also holds trips — last year they visited the Tumblr offices — and socials to get to know other people within the major.
Because the major is growing, WITI is also targeting newer ITI students with its upcoming peer mentor event, Irfan said. They plan to pair seniors with incoming ITI students to share their experiences and help the new students figure out their paths.
“It’s good to have a network of your own, because once you graduate, these are the people that you’re going to have,” Amin said.
The organization provides community to both male and female ITI majors, but as the Women in ITI group they aim to increase representation for women in the field. Stoerger’s goal in founding the group was to make sure women had a voice in the male-dominated field, Medidi said.
Outside of the corporate world, at Rutgers specifically, the club provides a sense of community and allows students to be surrounded by others who are in similar situations, Amin said. Having an established organization can be helpful to students, specially those new to the major.
Simply being around ambitious people can be motivating, Irfan said. She attributes her successes so far to WITI.
“For me, choosing to major in ITI was one of the best decisions I made in college and the second best decision I made was to join WITI,” she said.
Susmita Paruchuri is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in mathematics and journalism and media studies. She is the design editor for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @susmitapar for more.