Womxn in STEM is a rare identity in the United States, but also here in Costa Rica. When searching for study abroad programs I was 100% sure that I wanted to study abroad in Latin America. I searched multiple programs that would fit all the things I was looking for and the only program I found that offered Computer Science courses was UNA (Universidad Nacional). I wanted to touch on what it was like to be a womxn in the Computer Science field. In order to get a better sense of what CS is like for a womxn I sought help from a student at DePauw, Pia Ocvirk and and UNA student, Enibeth Sánchez Chaves.
Both Pia and Eni are amongst the smartest and most hardworking womxn I know and when it comes to Computer Science I can tell they love what they do. To understand their backgrounds a little more here is some info:
- 20 years old
- Major: Computer Science
- Nationality: Croatian
Enibeth Sánchez Chaves:
- 22 years old
- Major: Engineering: Information Systems
- Nationality: Costa Rican
I asked them a series of questions (the same questions) and a lot of what they said is very similar considering that they come from very different backgrounds and Universities.
“ I’ve always enjoyed solving problems and I think my major gives me the opportunity to choose from a very wide variety of careers.”
Being a STEM major is not easy, trust me. However, people who enter this field always do for 2 distinct reasons.
- This field helps them do what they love. In Pia’s case it allows her to solve problems that are unique and diverse. For Eni it gives her the opportunity to explore art and science in one major.
- The money. Neither Pia nor Eni mentioned the money that this career could offer. But, they did mention options. Majoring in Computer Science allows for flexibility and a plethora of careers that one can go into, which can be a benefit but it can also be overwhelming (I’m speaking from experience). Pia mentioned how as a Media Fellow she would like to combine the skills she learned there with CS in whatever career she decides for herself. Eni mentioned that she wants to explore the science of Astronomy through technology.
Do you have support?
“At the beginning it is uncomfortable, because in this career it is a majority men, but later you adapt — it becomes a more friendly environment that you do not notice the gender difference.”
Often times when people follow a certain career path it is because they know someone in the field maybe a family member or family friend. However, in both cases these womxn entered this field not knowing what to expect. Throughout their college experiences both have found support from friends, classmates, professors and their major departments overall. As someone who has been able to experience being a womxn in CS in both campuses I have found one common fact. Our professors at DePauw and UNA want us to succeed. They want womxn of color to dominate this field just like we did at the beginning of its creation. DePauw definitely has done more work to welcome womxn of color thanks to Khadija and Gloria. However, at UNA I have only heard of maybe 2 CS professors that are womxn. That being said representation matters. Which made me ask the next question.
Does gender affect your experience?
“I think that generally yes, people tend to think that engineering is for men, or women do not have a know how this field works, but I think that is changing little by little, it is not so noticeable.”
Both Pia and Eni talk about how comfortable they feel being womxn and studying CS, which warms my heart, but also does not take away from the fact that at DePauw womxn graduating with a CS degree is decreasing or the fact that in UNA only a third of the CS class consists of womxn. I asked both of them if they thought that their gender would affect their careers. Both of them acknowledge that it will be more difficult for them as womxn to find jobs or to experience healthy working environments, but at the end of the day they did not work 4 long hard years on a major that they thought they could not succeed in.