While Erin Baginski studied at IU, she was frequently one of two women in her classrooms. Besides her roommate, everyone else in her computer and information systems classes was male.
She’s since become the IT director at Progressive Insurance in Cleveland. But not without her fair share of struggle.
“I really just didn’t know what to do and where to go,” she said. “I didn’t have any role models. I didn’t really know anyone who was in this field who was female that I could ask questions.”
The Center of Excellence for Women in Technology is working to solve the problem Baginski faced as a student. CEWiT will be starting its first fully-fledged e-mentor program for female students in the fall.
“We would have loved to have something like this,” Baginski said.
The mentorship program was requested by CEWiT students.
“We always want to be responsive to what students need,” said Michelle Bartley-Taylor, CEWiT Assistant Director for Student Engagement. “They’re always looking for career development opportunities, to get connected through internships and job prospects.”
The mentorship program will be divided into two programs. The CEWiT Women’s Mentor Collective is open to any undergraduate woman. The CEWiT Black Women in STEM Mentor Collective was made specifically to address the distinctive intersectional needs of black women studying and working in STEM fields.
Last year, CEWiT ran a pilot version of the e-mentor program with 17 students receiving mentorship from 14 mentors. CEWiT collaborates with Mentor Collective, an agency that handles the program’s logistics.
This year, CEWiT is hoping to provide at least 50 students with a mentor.
“They really want to know what it’s like for women to work in tech,” she said. “They hear stories about how difficult it is for women to work in tech and they want to hear stories from women actually working in the industry.”
IU alumnae working in technology-related industries volunteer to videochat and message back and forth with IU women.
Baginski began mentoring for the CEWiT program in February.
“I wanted to start to give back a little more outside of my day job,” Baginski said. “I thought Center of Excellence for Women in Technology organization was just the right place for me to help because I was in the same boat as some of these ladies trying to figure out where to go, what to do and how it all works.”
Baginski graduated from IU with a bachelor’s degree in computer and information systems through the Kelley School of Business.
Her experiences in the workplace have been similar to her time in the classroom. There are still meetings and days where she’s surrounded entirely by men.
“The field in general is male-dominated, so as a female, you’re not going to have the cohort or peer group that you might have in another field,” she said. “It can be intimidating. It doesn’t have to be though.”
The mentorship program, Bartley-Taylor said, is a chance to see examples of women who have persevered and succeeded. It’s also about using mentors as sounding boards.
Baginski talked with her mentee about working in an internship. She advised her mentee to focus not only on her technical skills, but also her soft skills like leadership.
Although there are mock exercises and projects in classrooms, Baginski said internships present valuable opportunities to talk with and influence new people. She said she hopes her work with her mentee has helped her to develop skills outside the classroom.
Bartley-Taylor said she hopes that the mentors and mentees in the program can maintain their relationship long-term.
“The other thing we’ve learned for our program to be successful, it’s about building a relationship,” she said. “A relationship develops over time.”
Baginski said she thinks that having women equally represented in the workplace increases the employee base as a whole.
“We are still seeing a definite lack of women going into the STEM fields,” she said. “I am a huge proponent of diversity of thought and approach, and you get that when you have people from different experiences and experiences.”
A previous version of this story said the CEWiT mentorship program was open to any undergraduate woman working in a technology-related field. It is open to any undergraduate woman. The IDS regrets this error.
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