Merri Beth, Collegiate Outreach Director, has been a member of Women & Hi Tech for quite a while and attributes her passion to be an active board member to a few things. When she saw that there was a call for board members, she submitted an application for the role of Collegiate Outreach Director. In her role as Collegiate Outreach Director, Lavagnino is able to network with colleges and universities within Central Indiana. This, in turn, creates the opportunity to do new things, specifically linking students, faculty, and staff to hi-tech events.
When asked about further motivation to assume a more active role on the Women & Hi Tech board, Lavagnino said, “I am passionate about building relationships with collegiate sponsors to help determine what they need for STEM students as well as faculty and staff working at universities.” As a result, Lavagnino has held several panel sessions for college and university students to gauge interest in STEM careers. For Women & Hi Tech, the good news is that most of the members include women who are already STEM professionals and love to share their stories with students.
Lavagnino believes that connecting professionals with students is the most valuable thing that colleges and universities want. Because of her discovery, she moderated the Lessons Learned from Women Professionals in STEM Panels which allows STEM professionals to tell their stories and best practices on what undergraduate and graduate students should do as they pursue careers in STEM. “When we have these panel discussions, men also attend, and we appreciate their presence because men can learn what is needed to support and encourage their female counterparts to be a part of the industry,” Lavagnino said in a recent interview.
Lavagnino assisted with the scholarship awarding process for Women & Hi Tech’s 20th Anniversary in August of 2019, and then she was the scholarships chair for the organization’s Leading Light Awards in October of 2020. “I was responsible for the entire process and spent a lot of time working with a committee to make the application language more inclusive and encouraging, because our goal is to increase diversity,” she stated. While she spent time ensuring a more equitable and inclusive environment, Lavagnino also wants members of Women & Hi Tech to develop like no other.
As the Collegiate Outreach Director for Women & Hi Tech, Lavagnino believes that members should come to events with a welcoming, growth-mindset to learn not only thoughts and ideas that apply to current STEM careers, but also to understand the careers of their peers who are working in other areas of STEM. Lavagnino goes on to say that, “When we learn more about our peer women, how we can support them, and what techniques they use that we can use to apply to our own lives, we further inspire young women who have a curiosity in STEM. Sometimes we just need to talk to someone outside of our current job, who can help us navigate those waters.”
As the times and trends change in STEM, Lavagnino makes a priority to highlight a couple of them. “My area of STEM is information technology privacy and security compliance. The biggest barrier that I’ve noticed for women is the lack of detailed technical knowledge, as it pertains to technology,” she said in a recent interview, “prevents women from branching out and pursuing new career opportunities.” To Lavagnino, it seems that young men play with programming more as children and engage in more gaming as teenagers. “The games are written to appeal to young men,” Lavagnino asserted. She feels that women, too, can break through that barrier and get started in tech as early as young men do. If you know young women who have an inkling of interest, help them get started programming and playing with technology hardware and software earlier.
“I think that throughout our STEM careers, all kinds of women, including diverse women, should have the same opportunities to pursue security, data, and analytics as it applies to their STEM area.” As the industry evolves, and more women pursue executive leadership positions in STEM, data analysis tools will be important to gain business insights. “Some of us work in a lab or teach a STEM discipline, but we aren’t experts in analyzing the data about our work. We’re in a time where we all have to become those experts,” Lavagnino said. “If you’re a woman or underrepresented minority pursuing a STEM career, you’ll set yourself apart with applicable coursework or even a minor or certificate in data analytics, when applying and interviewing for new opportunities.”