MTU’s Dr. Linda Ott, inspiring women into computer science fields

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HOUGHTON–  On Michigan Technological University’s campus, you’ll find Dr. Linda Ott, a professor of computer science. She is a founding organizer of the Michigan Celebration of Women in Computing.

“We put on this program as a conference every two years, primarily focused on students, undergraduates and some graduate students to give them a better feeling for what it’s like to be in computing, give them a sense of different research areas, give them a sense of the industry,” said Dr. Ott. “Our goal is to encourage young women to persist and to enjoy being in computing fields.”

Linda received her Ph.D. from Purdue University in 1978 and came to Michigan Tech shortly after where she’s been ever since. She says over time she’s noticed a shift of women engaging in the field.

“For quite a while in the department we had a very small number of women,” said Dr. Ott. “So there would be times like in the 2000’s where you’d have a class of 40 students and they would be all male. And we used to joke in the department that we didn’t realize that we were teaching at a boys school. We’ve started to make some changes and I remember we’d start to get a few women, but it’s very awkward when you’re the only woman in a class of 35 or 40 students. And I remember even a few, would have been four years ago now, the particular course I’m teaching again this semester, I was teaching that same course then and I got to class one day, the first day and I was like, ‘I’ve got more than one woman in this class.’ There was three or four. And I thought, ‘You know, this is going to be so nice. It’s not going to be so bad bad for them.’ And then I quickly realized that the dynamics still really weren’t very good and part of it was they were different. Once was in ROTC, one was non-traditional and one was in a sorority. So they had different interests. They weren’t like hanging out together. This year I’ve got basically the same class. It’s a little bit bigger, but there’s more women. And now, the interactions are more normal, natural.”

Linda says the something that is important in getting more women into the field is exposing them to it at an earlier age. She’s involved with the National Center for Women and Information Technology’s Aspiration in Computing Award.

“This year we’ll be recognizing around 40 high school girls as Michigan winners,” said Dr. Ott. “Then there’s honorable mention. And then this year we’ve added a new category called, Rising Stars and those are as a way of recognizing young women particularly like early high school who are showing a lot of interest but maybe haven’t had a lot of opportunity yet as a way of encouraging them to continue to persue it.”
 

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