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DSU Sees Nearly 300% Increase in Women Majoring in Cyber Sciences

DSU Media Relations

Computer science has tended to be a male-dominated field, but Dakota State University is seeing a shift in the numbers. The school has seen a nearly 300% increase in female computer and cyber science majors over the last five years. 

The Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences at DSU includes majors like cyber operations and network security and administration. Five years ago, 26 undergraduate students in the Beacom College were women. By 2017 there were just over a hundred.

Dr. Ashley Podhradsky is an associate professor of digital forensics at DSU and is thrilled by the news. She developed the CybHER program in 2013. She says educational outreach programs and camps like CybHER have reached more than 10 thousand girls in the region from preschool to high school ages.

Podhradsky says she started the program because she hoped to change the fact that she was often the only woman at the table in her profession.

“To do that, it is a long-term play," she says. "You have to work down towards the middle-school age range in order to get girls excited about this space and show them what kind of fun things they can do so that way they can choose education and a career in this area.”

Podhradsky says the programs focus on the fun of problem solving, rather than emphasizing the gender disparity in tech fields.

“We rarely talk about the problem. We don’t talk to these girls that they’re rare or they’re going to change things in this field. Instead we show them the fun and interesting careers that cyber security has.”

She gives the example of showing girls how to crack weak passwords and create stronger ones. She also says the one-on-one mentorship opportunities have improved recruitment efforts.

Once women come to Dakota State for cyber-related majors, Podhradsky says corporate sponsors have played a big role in retention efforts. Those sponsors have allowed students to attend events like the National Women in Cyber Security conference earlier this year, and the Rocket Girls camp at the Kennedy Space Center this summer.

Podhradsky says DSU recognizes the growing needs in cyber security, and has prioritized efforts to recruit the brightest students regardless of gender.