Tech celebrates annual Women’s History Month

The Women at Tech exhibit outside of the Women’s Resource features stories about women who have made a positive impact on Tech and the greater community. // Photo by Ethan Vitak Student Publications

Women’s History Month, celebrated each year in March, is a time to recognize all of women’s achievements and contributions to society. It began originally in 1978 as a local weeklong celebration in California and included March 8, International Women’s Day since 1911. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first presidential proclamation to declare the week of March 8th as National Women’s History Week.

The celebration turned into a month-long commemoration in 1987 when Congress passed a law to declare March as Women’s History Month. Since 1995, every president has issued an annual proclamation to continue the tradition of honoring women during the month of March.

To honor this Women’s History Month, the Life section of the Technique in this issue is dedicated to celebrating current and past Tech women who have and are now positively impacting those both on and off campus. 

The history of women at Tech began in 1952 when the first women students, Elizabeth Herndon and Diane Michel, enrolled at Tech. In 1960, the first woman faculty member, Mary Katherine Cabell, was hired as a math instructor. The early days of women’s enrollment at Tech gave the Institute its infamous ratio problem. In 1970, women made up only 1.6% of Tech graduates. Since then, many strides have been taken to bring gender equality to campus. In the Early Action 1 profile for 2022, 52% of the admitted students were female, and the other 48% were male.

At Tech, honoring Women’s History Month often includes celebrating women in STEM.

Each year, the Center for the Study of Women, Science and Technology (WST) hosts a Distinguished Lecture open for the Tech community and public to honor “outstanding contributors to understandings of, and positive impact for, women, science, and technology.”

Founded in 1999, WST seeks to promote the recruitment, retention and advancement of female students and faculty in science, technology, engineering and math fields. It also seeks to link issues in the study of science and technology with gender, culture and society through research and education.

This year, Dr. Gilda Barabino, current president of Olin College of Engineering, spoke at the WST Distinguished Lecture. Barabino is a chemical engineer by training and has held various professorship and dean positions in engineering schools across the nation. Barabino also previously worked at Tech where she was the associate chair for graduate studies and professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering and the first vice provost for academic diversity.

Barabino’s lecture, entitled “Making Visible the Invisible: Leadership for Careers in Science and Engineering,” focused on the hidden systems and behaviors that establish damaging equity gaps between majority and minority populations. Barabino suggested that leaders must make marginalized individuals and their contributions visible because it is necessary for future progress in creating inclusive scientific enterprises.

To start her presentation, Barabino noted her view on the current state of science and engineering.

“Careers for racially minoritized groups and women are stunted,” Barabino said. “There is a dearth of women leaders, and the lack of women of color leaders is particularly acute.”

Barabino then discussed her own personal experiences as a Black woman academic, sharing stories about previous students and librarians who assumed at first glance that she was not a professor or a faculty member. Barabino also mentioned several research studies, reports and social science conceptual frameworks.

Barabino ended her presentation on a hopeful note by saying, “The road ahead may be difficult, but it is doable.”

This month, the College of Computing is likewise celebrating women in STEM by sharing stories of women in computing on their website: womenshistorymonth.cc.gatech.edu.

Dana Randall, ADVANCE professor of computing and adjunct professor of mathematics, shared her thoughts on the advancement of women in society over the recent years.

“We have really come a long way, and now we see women on the Georgia Tech campus in every area of leadership having a voice heard,” Randall said. “It’s really amazing to see how many women students have come to the campus … History tells you that that wasn’t always the case, and when I started in STEM, there were very few women role models and mentors, and now it’s just a lively community. We all support each other and rely on each other.”

Honoring Women’s History Month can also mean celebrating women’s sports on campus. The women’s basketball team was the first women’s sports team to receive varsity status at Tech in 1974. This season, the team has recently been selected to participate in the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row.

Earlier this month, Present Ángel Cabrera sat down with Nell Fortner, head coach for the women’s basketball team.

To begin the conversation, Cabrera said, “Nell Fortner … has created an incredible program which I enjoy watching every chance I have.”

Fortner has coached top programs throughout her career and even led the United States national team to an Olympic gold medal in 2000.

She described her views of the basketball team and the importance of women’s sports to Cabrera.

“It’s an exciting game. I think we have athletes that work hard. I think we’re a fun team to watch,” Fortner said. “One of the best things about women’s sports is our approachability … We want to talk to people … We get on the floor, and we play hard. It’s a fun game to watch, and we’re going to say hello to you after the game.”

Evidence of women achieving success is always obvious all over campus — not just during Women’s History Month. Part of this success can be attributed to the supportive Institute programs including Leading [email protected], Women of Color Initiative (WOCI) and the WST Learning Community which provide beneficial resources and events. Visit diversity.gatech.edu for additional information about these programs and issues of gender equality.