Voices in Tech: Spotlight on Villanova University’s Women in Tech

How an annual technology conference and mentoring program helps women in all academic disciplines

In the Women in Tech program at Villanova University, women are leading and innovating with technology across the Pennsylvania campus and the alumni base. VU Women in Tech is the platform for students, alumni and industry leaders to share experiences, highlight opportunities for women in technology, and motivate women to participate. The platform gives women the opportunity to imagine a technology-based career, increase their participation in technology, share successes and failures, and network across schools, disciplines and generations. 

The program’s biggest event is a conference held at the beginning of each spring semester. The 2019 conference had almost 300 attendees. The fifth annual VU Women in Tech conference will be on February 1, 2020. 

Alicia Strandberg is an assistant professor of management and operations at Villanova. She presented at the UB Tech® 2019 Women in Technology Summit on June 10 in Orlando. Submit a proposal to speak at UB Tech® 2020.

What was the goal when you started VU Women in Tech?

Our goal was to offer something for everyone, not just our computer science majors and engineers. We wanted something friendly and that was easy for students to do. We thought: If we could get 75 people to come out and listen to speakers talking about technology on a Saturday morning, we’ll be thrilled. At our very first conference, we had 125 people. It was a really positive first step, but the conference is just once a year and we wanted to keep this effort going all year.

We needed sponsorships so that the event could be free. We went into the community, and we talked with alumni and students. We had a vision of including alumni. We didn’t want to limit attendance, so even if you have no connection to Villanova, you are still welcome to come to our conference for free. 

Read: Voices in Tech: Creating video content that appeals to college students

How does this platform create opportunities for women in technology?

We put a lot of thought into how we market and title our events. We have a recurring workshop called Cupcakes, Cookies and Coding. The idea is for women students to spend maybe two hours with us on a Friday afternoon; you walk in knowing nothing about R script, and you walk out knowing what R looks like, how to edit R script, and how to run some code and get output. We try to do about two workshops per semester on different topics such as Excel macros, Python, 3D printers and Tableau. 

Next, we’re going to build mentoring opportunities based on the relationships that people are making at our conferences. One thing that we’re finding very meaningful is highlighting women in the technology space and making a conscious effort to highlight women  who aren’t in tech-related fields of study. All careers and majors will be using technology.

What advice do you have for higher ed leaders looking to start something similar?

Consider this endeavor and explore the opportunities. Start with a group of committed, passionate committee members. It helps to have an advocate at a high level, even if they’re not on the committee. Also, almost every college has a group that supports women. Leverage relationships and have groups co-sponsor something like a movie night. It’s a low investment and an easy event to market. Make it fun. 

Why is collaboration across the institution important? 

We work with our development team. They can recognize alumni in this area who could be good speakers or who would be willing to come to campus and engage with us or support us in some way. Our committee started with staff, faculty, department chairs and some campus leaders. We try to be creative. 

For our last conference, we paired with the women’s basketball team, and we had a “pivoting” theme. We had our audience members stand up and pivot, and then think of the movement as part of their careers. Villanova recently celebrated 50 years of women in sports, which tied in nicely, and we highlighted it at our conference. 

Melissa Nicefaro is deputy program director for UB Tech. 

Submit a proposal to speak at UB Tech® 2020.

Melissa Nicefaro
Melissa Nicefaro
Melissa Nicefaro is UBTech’s deputy program director.

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