Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin toured the Women in Technology Center when she visited MATC's Downtown Milwaukee Campus to discuss The Grants for Renewable Energy Education for the Nation (GREEN) Act. Pictured left to right are Brandi Burnett, Serita Campbell and Sen. Baldwin.
Brandi Burnett wants to make a major career shift into computer electronics technology or computer programming – both fields greatly dominated by male employees. "I've worked in child care and food service," she said. "I wasn't real computer smart, but having children who love technology has kind of pushed me into learning more about computers."
She is intrigued by computer-related fields for a number of reasons, including the promise of higher wages and greater job stability. But she feels somewhat isolated in her technical studies courses because there are so few women in her classes.
Computer programming and computer electronics technology are both considered non-traditional occupations (NTO) for women. An occupation is considered non-traditional by the U.S. Department of Labor if 25 percent or less of the people employed the field are of one gender. MATC offers 100 NTO programs – 66 for women and 34 for men.
"In most cases, non-traditional occupations for women are in fields that lead to higher salaries, better benefits and more recession-proof career tracks," explained Nutan Amrute, MATC coordinator for non-traditional occupations.
Non-Traditional Occupations Can be Rewarding
A feeling of not belonging in non-traditional occupations programs can be enough to compel some students to drop out of programs or even out of college, according to Amrute. She said that students tell her that being one of the only women in a technical studies field can be intimidating and frustrating.
MATC is helping female students cope with the isolation by offering them a place to come together to give each other mutual support and learning opportunities. The brainchild of MATC's Non-Traditional Occupations (NTO) Grant Project Committee, MATC formed a Women in Technology (WIT) Center in 2011. Housed in the T Building on MATC's Downtown Milwaukee Campus, the WIT Center offers female students a place to study in a relaxed and supportive atmosphere and to share ideas on coping with being women in what are generally considered "men's fields."
Deb Richards, MATC air conditioning and refrigeration technology instructor (left), helps student Maria Stubbendick build a "dark sensor alarm" for a home security system in the Women in Technology Center.
Specialized software used in many of the technical courses has been purchased for use in the center. Students say the center is a "second home" to them. They study, relax, talk about their challenges and encourage each other to stay in college and to deal with many life issues.
Center Provides Educational Assistance and Role Models
Amrute and Terese Dressel, MATC associate dean of technical and applied sciences, oversee the center. Dorothy Walker, interim dean of the School of Technology and Applied Sciences, and instructors Tom Heraly, Aimee Hubiack, Heidi Peterson and Deb Richards also help the students with their studies and serve as role models.
Students also use their technical expertise to build a variety of projects in the WIT Center, ranging from solar panels to a model house. Everyone is urged to help build the projects and to learn new skills, regardless of which technical discipline they are studying.
Encouragement to Try Different Fields
Ocie Buckner, one of the first students hired to work in the center, explained some of the projects. "We're building a model house," she said. "We're learning plumbing, electricity, architecture. I would never have thought about doing plumbing till one of the women urged me to work with her on a project. I've seen guys do electrical work, but I never thought of doing it myself. Seeing another woman do it makes you realize you can do it, too. I'm learning so much because people who come to the center are from different fields and we share our projects."
MATC recently received a $25,000 grant from GE Healthcare to build on the success of the WIT center by creating a STEM Center open to all MATC students who are enrolled in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) programs. The women will continue to have dedicated space in the new STEM Center. The donation will help to expand the center so it can be available to students in related fields such as biotechnology or information systems. The funding will be used to add new equipment such as computers, robotics kits, rapid prototyping equipment and new workstations.
"There are so many opportunities to meet people here and to learn about things we might want to do that we'd never thought of before. The center is helping us to be better women and better in our individual fields. We cheer each other on. We're women and we're awesome."
--Yaasmeen Joseph, MATC architectural technology student
Students in the Women in Technology Center built a solar panel with help from Nutan Amrute, MATC coordinator of non-traditional occupations. Front, left to right, are Maria Stubbendick, Amrute and Serita Campbell. Back row, left to right, are Ocie Buckner, Brandi Burnett and Earrainia Macon.
Participants in the WIT Center also have organized the MATC Women in Technology Club. As a student organization, members can raise funds for the center and become involved in student leadership activities. They participate in open houses, the Wisconsin Manufacturing Show, the Sustainability Summit, elementary and high school visits, "Heavy Metal Tours" for high school students, an annual Girl Scout event at the Oak Creek Campus and other college events that promote technical careers.
Recruiting other female students to use the center is a priority. MATC, the WIT Center staff and club members are looking for ways to expand their services. They hope to offer space and resources for women in NTO programs at MATC's regional campuses in the future.
Fostering Student Confidence to Stay in Technical Fields
One of the major goals of the center is to help retain students in NTO programs. "Without the center, I probably would have dropped out of the technical programs," Burnett said.
An information systems security specialist associate degree student and president of the Women in Technology Club, Buckner echoes that sentiment. "Had the center not been here, I don't think I'd still be here," she said. "There are lots of women at MATC from the inner city who don't know what college is like. They don't have friends in similar situations. If they come to the center, they can talk about their problems and get support."
Yaasmeen Joseph, a student in MATC's architectural technology associate degree program who also works in the center, is excited by the projects and the camaraderie in the center. "There are so many opportunities to meet people here and to learn about things we might want to do that we'd never thought of before," she said. "The center is helping us to be better women and better in our individual fields. We cheer each other on. We're women and we're awesome."
Visit the Women in Technology Facebook page at:
For more information on non-traditional occupations at MATC, visit:
Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin posed with students and staff at the Women in Technology Center. Pictured left to right are Yaasmeen Joseph, Earrainia Macon, Ocie Buckner, Sen. Baldwin, Serita Campbell, Nutan Amrute, (MATC coordinator of non-traditional occupations) and Brandi Burnett.