Women in Technology RSO fosters supportive community for IT students
Like many new students, Illinois State cybersecurity major Casey Johnson searched for a sense of community once she arrived on campus in 2017. Johnson’s search for like-minded students led her to a registered student organization (RSO) that she would later lead.
“As a freshman, I feel like you’re always encouraged to join all the clubs,” said Johnson, a senior from Wheaton. “I was looking at all the different IT clubs that I could join, and when I saw the Women in Technology organization as a woman in technology, I was like, ‘This is perfect.’”
Women in Technology (WIT) strives to build a supportive community for women within the School of Information Technology (IT). WIT was formed on campus in 2016, just one year before Johnson joined. Johnson recalls that at the first WIT meeting she ever attended, there were only three other students.
Fast forward three years, WIT now boasts 20 members, and Johnson is heading into her second year as the RSO’s president. “I joined my freshman year, my sophomore year I became vice president, and my junior and senior year I am president,” said Johnson. “The opportunity to step into a leadership position has provided me a lot of personal growth. I’ve seen myself grow so much over the past three years.”
Freshman Audra Heistand was able to find her place in WIT just like Johnson had as a freshman.
“When I first came to campus, I was looking for a place to connect with others who shared my interest in information technology,” said Heistand, a computer science major from Monticello. “After attending a few WIT meetings, I knew that I was in the right place. I have definitely grown socially and professionally through my experience at WIT.”
The positive experience that Heistand has had with WIT illustrates the goal of the group. “WIT helps convey to women on campus that there are opportunities for them in IT,” said Dr. Traci Carte, director of the School of Information Technology. “They also engage in community outreach efforts to help young girls see themselves as capable of mastering technology and being welcomed into IT.”
WIT hosts weekly meetings that include social nights and professional development sessions. Volunteering is also a large focus of WIT. The group works closely with State Farm for Millennium Girls. This is an all-day event at State Farm that immerses young girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) activities.
WIT members volunteer for the Normal Public Library’s Partners in Technology program. For eight weeks, the program pairs members with middle school students for one-hour sessions where they explore computer science and computational thinking. Around the holidays, the group volunteers at the Bloomington chapter of Operation Santa, an organization that sends supplies and gifts to soldiers overseas.
“WIT is a great way to give back to the local community, no matter your level of technological ability,” said Katie Sherman, vice president of WIT, who is a senior computer science major from Bloomington.
Johnson and other group members frequently emphasize that WIT is open to all students. “People usually like to think of WIT being only women, but I can tell you that a third of our members are guys,” said Johnson. “We have people who aren’t IT majors. It’s not as niche as you want to think; it’s a very open club and it’s really about making that community. Our main goal is supporting women in technology. I really push this idea that if you support women in technology, you are always welcome.”
Explore more opportunities to get involved at RedbirdLife.IllinoisState.edu.