Of the 407 computer science students at MSU, 13% of students are women. This is below the industry average, which states that 20% of computer science professionals are women.
Kaytlynn Skibo, a junior computer science major, is one of the women who makes up this 13% and is pursuing a degree in the male-dominated program.
Skibo said she’s always had an interest in technology, which was heavily influenced by her family. She reflected back to her younger years and said she used to bond with her father by watching him play video games. She became fascinated by computers.
“Both of my parents were huge nerds,” Skibo said, laughing.
Skibo said she considered attending Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, but said she was terrified of the gender gap and felt more comfortable attending MSU. According to student data from 2018, Missouri Science and Technology’s student make-up is 76% male and 24% female.
In class at MSU, however, Skibo said male professors and classmates often doubt her abilities and over-explain concepts to her.
“(Men) either think I’m annoying, a nuisance or a bother,” Skibo said. “Or want to do everything for me and view me as a rarity that must be treasured.”
Skibo says these encounters are extreme opposites but both make her feel uncomfortable and dehumanized.
“I’m just a fellow computer science student,” Skibo said. “I probably play just as much, or more, video games than (men) do.”
Dino Longo, a junior computer science major, chose the major because he likes computer games. Longo and his friends used to build computers in high school, and figured a career in computer science would be fulfilling and enjoyable.
“Also, (computer scientists) are well paid,” Longo said.
According to Indeed.com, recent statistics show computer scientists earn an estimated average of $99,505 per year.
Longo said last semester in his class of about 40 students, there were only three or four women.
Longo admits women may have a different experience than him, but said he has never experienced special or unusual treatment from professors or other classmates.
Longo said women in this degree may be at a disadvantage when it comes to making connections or friendships — he’s noticed men in the program often tend to lean towards talking to other men so women may feel left out.
Skibo said professors in the computer science department will either take extra notice of her or deviate their attention from her completely. She claimed professors aren’t used to having women in their classroom because it’s so uncommon.
Dr. Ajay Katangur has worked as the department head of computer science since last August. During this time he has tried to improve women's experience in the program by inviting female presenters to speak in front of classes to give women role models to look up to.
“When it comes to our department, I don’t think we have a gender bias,” Katangur said. “We treat males and females equally.”
He said he encourages female students to pursue their career and is always open to providing advice.
Katangur said computer science is a great career because you can work from home and given this factor, he is surprised more females aren’t encouraged to pursue computer science.
“In my opinion, (Computer science) is one of the easiest fields for females,” Katungur said. “You’re just sitting in a chair all day, coding on a computer.”
Skibo said women today aren’t focused on balancing their lives around children and staying home to take care of them.
“It’s a very prehistoric idea and notion that women only want to work chair and office jobs,” Skibo said.
Skibo said she is looking forward to spending her younger years solely focused on her career.
English professor Lanya Lamouria has a background in gender studies and teaches literature classes that focus on gender at Missouri State.
Lamouria said as girls grow up, interest in traditionally male fields become more stigmatized.
“Women weren't able to pursue university education until pretty late into the 19th century,” Lamouria said. “Even though women now have access to STEM fields, they are still dealing with the lasting effects of that setback.”
Lamouria referenced a study done by Microsoft that suggests females tend to lose interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers early in their educational journeys.
According to the study “Closing the STEM Gap,” this loss of interest is caused by several factors including: peer pressure to pursue other careers, a lack of female role models in the field, a lack of support from parents and teachers and an overall misinterpretation of what STEM careers look like after college.
Lamouria said she is skeptical of those who argue that men are better at math.
“We need an equal social situation to exist before we can really evaluate female abilities,” Lamouria said.
Lamouria is staying optimistic about the future of STEM fields and hopes to see more women move into this area of study as the years go on.
She said women pursuing STEM are going to face obstacles but hopes this knowledge doesn’t prevent women from choosing this career.
“I think women tend to think that outside factors are our fault,” Lamouria said, “An obstacle is in our path and we think ‘Oh this has to do with me — it’s somehow my problem.’”
Lamouria said keeping this in mind can help women maintain their passion and confidence.
“It’s not always about you,” Lamouria said. “Sometimes it’s about the system you’re in.”
Skibo’s eyes lit up talking about the possibilities of her future. She hopes to someday become an international project manager, however her dream job is to work with artificial intelligence.