Saint Leo University Encouraging Women in STEM Fields
The university’s School of Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Data Science provides support, fosters interest in emerging careers.
Research shows that only 20 percent of computer science undergraduate degrees in the United States go to women. As for computer and mathematical occupations, women comprise 25 percent of the workforce. But at Saint Leo University, women are excelling in the computer science, cybersecurity, and math fields.
Saint Leo’s female students are sweeping academic awards, gaining knowledge in competitive internships, and earning great jobs.
As the observance of Women’s History Month comes to an end, Saint Leo students and graduates are making history, joining the highly competitive world of STEM — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
“Women are entering the STEM field by storm, and we are never going away,” said Naomi Nash, who now is working on a master’s degree in cybersecurity as part of her 3+1 computer science/cybersecurity degree program.
She completed her bachelor’s degree in computer science this fall and is working in cybersecurity as a tier 1 penetration tester. Nash also is the founder and president of Saint Leo’s PenTest Club that “hacks” for good in cybersecurity competitions such as “Capture the Flag (CTF),” and she led the team to a second place win in October’s Raymond James CTF competition.
Nash was joined by three fellow young women in earning all of the School of Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Data Science’s (CARDS) academic excellence awards in 2022.
She earned the Excellence in Academic Leadership Award, while the 2022 Excellence in Scholarship Award went to Kristen Russell, now a risk management analyst for Raymond James; the Excellence in Experiential Learning was awarded to Therese Corkum; and the Dean’s Award for Excellence went to Chrisalyn Junkert, now an Air Force second lieutenant.
Nash developed her STEM interests in high school where she took cybersecurity courses. “After finding that passion and embracing every opportunity I could,
I applied and got accepted into Saint Leo’s 3+1 computer science/cybersecurity degree program.”
Junkert said she was drawn to major in math because of its “utility across many different disciplines.”
Initially a computer information systems (CIS) major with a math minor, Junkert said after completing a couple of math classes she was “drawn to the professors in the math department and their rigid, organized teaching structure. The way math professors taught made sense to me more than other classes I was taking, and I decided to switch to pursue mathematics.
“There’s a saying that you need to choose three hobbies in order to make yourself happy in life: One to get me money, one to keep me in shape, and one to keep me creative,” Junkert added. Her STEM degree “is the hobby “that will fund all of my fun activities, and it also happens to be a strong suit of mine so that makes the tasks more enjoyable!”
Russell was drawn to Saint Leo’s School of CARDS and STEM program because of the small class sizes, “resulting close-knit group of peers I found in my major and related fields. It's great to have shared that experience.”
While Nash said she wasn’t surprised that more men than women were enrolled in her courses, she was surprised to find how different people think and tackle problems. And to her, that’s a good thing. “Being able to collaborate ideas together in a field that is only growing, shows just how far our field can develop when mixing students' perspectives from so many different backgrounds and experiences.”
Saint Leo University offers many opportunities for young women (and men) to explore STEM fields. In the past, the university has hosted girls’ robotics camps, as well as boys and co-ed camps for children ages 11 to 15. In January, the university hosted a STEM Boot Camp for Young Women.
Opening younger women’s eyes to the possibilities of STEM was the goal of the boot camp. “There is a drastic shortage of people with training in the STEM fields and that shortage is significantly greater for women,” said Dr. Jacci White, professor of mathematics in the School of CARDS. “Saint Leo University brings two wonderful strengths to the table. First, our values are a critical component so that the future workforce not only knows what to calculate, automate, investigate, etc., but also how to do that work in a way that enhances our community without harming any groups. Second, Saint Leo is unique that half of our full-time math faculty are women so that we can offer a less intimidating environment for young women to explore the ‘M’ in STEM.”
Advice for Future STEM Students
To those girls and young women thinking about pursuing a degree in a STEM field, Russell says to do some research. “There are many inspiring women who came before us and set an excellent example of what it means to find a passion and not let it go,” she said. “It is important to do something because you enjoy it, not because of what anyone else thinks you should enjoy.”
And Nash agrees. “Don’t be scared to chase your interests,” she advised. “Spending time being concerned about what others think takes time away from you being excited about them. Even if you know you want to do something in STEM and don’t know where to start, try everything! Watch YouTube videos on how to edit photos and use design software; explore ‘how-to’ articles from GeeksforGeeks or other helpful websites on how to program in different languages; explore anything and everything.”
For information on the School of CARDs, contact CARDS@saintleo.edu. Request more information here https://www.saintleo.edu/request-information. Apply online https://www.saintleo.edu/apply-online here. For more information, contact the Office of Admissions at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (352) 588-8283/toll-free (800) 334-5532.