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The College of Business Administration

Byting Back

Business Administration Complex Unites Students and Enhances a Sense of Community

By Christopher Neprasch

College of Business Administration - Kaythari Phon, Barbae Dwaine Marquez, Nandita Chauhan and Tatiana Kambwa are Avanade scholarship recipients.

Before Raissa Engelhard was accepted to Cal Poly Pomona, she already helped build an automated system to track detentions for 800 Los Angeles Unified School District students. 

Engelhard was a community college student juggling part-time work and spread thin financially, but she still volunteered to work on an LAUSD system capable of scanning student IDs, creating logs and printing out a receipt to gain experience as a database administrator. 

“I usually have to work two jobs to pay for school and all of my needs,” the computer information systems student says. “To be able to focus solely on school and have the time to participate in clubs — it’s life-changing.” 

A $15,000 Avanade Women in Information Technology Scholarship, an exclusive award renewable for five years, is making a huge impact on Engelhard’s life. The scholarship program also aims to make an impact on a gender gap. 

Avanade has pledged nearly $400,000 for five scholarships as part of an initiative aimed at attracting and keeping women enrolled in technology studies at universities with strong science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs. Cal Poly Pomona is the only university in the United States chosen to participate. 

The Avanade Women in Information Technology Scholarship also provides other tools to help women succeed in an industry that has a 3-to-1 male-to-female ratio.

The scholarship recipients will have regular access to a unique support network that includes mentoring from Avanade corporate executives and Cal Poly Pomona faculty members. Avanade is also opening doors to internships at the technology giant’s offices in more than 80 locations in 20 countries. 

“The computer field is not like history where you can read about what’s happened in the past,” says Tatiana Kambwa, a scholarship recipient who is studying computer information systems. “You have to program and build applications in order to gain experience so the internship is another valuable step in reaching my goal.” 

As chair of the computer information systems department, Professor Dan Manson played a key role in the scholarship program and has been trying new approaches to spark female interest in STEM fields.

One of Manson’s projects involves teaming up with the LAUSD for CyberPatriot, a National Youth Cyber Education Program created by the Air Force Association to inspire children to seek careers in STEM. He and event organizers took the program to the next level after they noticed that less than 25 percent of participants were female, and created CyberGirlz. The most recent CyberGirlz event attracted 130 middle- and high-school girls to Cal Poly Pomona. 

“The gender gap is real. Having a program like Avanade’s when I was here would have attracted more
girls to the major and profession,” says Patricia Benoit, Southern California Edison IT manager and a CIS alumna. “Experience has shown that my male peers with similar aptitudes and skills have risen in their careers more quickly.” 

Progress for women in IT has been slow. Benoit recalls being the only female student in her high school programming class decades ago. Even at a recent certification course for seasoned information system professionals, she was only one of two women in a class of 22. 

CyberGirlz and the Avanade scholarship program are developing a pipeline and a support network that, in time, will have profound effect on the future of industry. The personal touch cannot be undervalued. 

After 30 years in the industry, Benoit still remembers the female professor who guided her through the difficult decision of switching majors and later became her confidante. Benoit also recalls the three female faculty members who inspired and mentored her through Cal Poly Pomona’s MBA program. Since earning that MBA, she has committed herself to helping close the gender gap in information technology. 

With an industry ally in Benoit and programs to attract female students to STEM fields, the seeds have been planted for future generations. 

“Programs like the Avanade scholarship and CyberGirlz will help to even out the [technology] workforce demographic,” Manson says. “These girls who look up to women professionals will become role models themselves and continue to help institute change.”