Shattering stereotypes through academic excellence with MIT-AFRICA
Computer Science has long been a male-dominated field but four young female students are working on changing that narrative.
Francheska Machubelle, Jenna Hawk, Jasmine Zou, and Christabel Sitienei, all final year computer science students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ran the first Durban University of Technology-MIT Summer School Programme on a Quantitative and Qualitative Data Analytics Workshop.
The workshop took place at the Ritson Campus from 13 – 28 January.
The four students were teaching computer science to DUT PhD, Masters and undergraduate students who are majoring in Information Technology and Economics.
Sitienei, a Kenyan born MIT electrical engineering and computer science graduate, spoke on how she has navigated being subjected to stereotypes throughout her academic and professional career as a black woman.
“I think the stereotypes vary a lot, depending on where you’re from, how you look like, how you wear your hair and how you dress,” she said.
“For instance, when I was in Jordan, everyone thought I was a maid because every black woman there is usually a housemaid. I’ve also been in spaces where everyone thinks I’m a secretary when I walk in with my computer, usually to take notes or to code. They normally say things like “Good Morning Gentlemen” and then don’t acknowledge me.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics women in the United States of America (USA) only earned 18% of Computer Science bachelor’s degrees.
Computer science remains a male-dominated field not just in the USA but also in South Africa as Zoe acknowledged the representation of the classes she taught.
“I would also like to note that while our class was predominantly male, the female students that we had were amazing. They have been such hand workers and getting the skills just as fast as everyone else and all of the stereotypes that you hear like oh “Women can’t do the math as well” is all garbage,” she said.
The programme is set to be an annual mainstay on the DUT calendar, advancing the scope of research, data analysis, innovation, and scholarship.