Jean Holtmann is used to being one of the few women in the room.
In her computer science classes at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and throughout her career in IT support, the 54-year-old said, a typical ratio has been one or two women to 15 or 20 men.
Her parents would like to see that change for future generations of women in computing.
Their recent $25,000 gift to create a scholarship in Holtmann’s honor helped UNO meet a goal to raise $250,000 this summer, the school announced last week. It was the first phase of a larger goal to raise $400,000 over the next two years to fund the school’s Women in IT Initiative.
The initiative, launched in May, aims to double the number of women in the College of Information Science & Technology in the next two years and keep it growing.
Women make up just 9.4 percent of undergraduate students in the College of IS&T. The number of women undergrads was up this year at 96, compared with 84 last year, but with the growth in the total number of students to 1,022 from 918, the percentage barely budged.
College Dean Hesham Ali was proud the initiative reached its first funding goal, saying he thought it would be a stretch. Donors were motivated for different reasons, Ali said. Some want to close the gender gap in the field as a matter of equality. Others see a need for more IT workers no matter their gender. And some see gender diversity as increasing the quality of work in computing.
“We didn’t really have to sell hard,” Ali said, noting that Holtmann’s parents’ donation was unprompted.
The scholarship endowment from Holtmann’s parents, Frank and Shirley Hartranft of Bellevue, will provide for a $1,000 scholarship annually for a female student in the college.
Also contributing to the $250,000 raised were Gallup, Google, ConAgra Foods, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska, Northrop Grumman, Client Resources, Interpublic Group, Physicians Mutual and Baldwin, Hackett & Meeks. The Lozier Foundation, the Jim and Shirley Young Family Foundation and the University of Nebraska Foundation’s Women Investing in Nebraska also contributed.
The $250,000 will fund a mentorship program for female students, an immersion experience for middle and high school girls, funds to recruit female students, and awards and development experiences for female students. The additional $150,000 to be raised next will continue those efforts and fund more scholarships.
Holtmann, who works in the Bellevue office of Defense Department contractor BAE Systems, said little has changed to improve women’s participation in IT since the 1980s when she was in school. She hopes the UNO effort will make the difference.
“I believe men and women think differently but they complement each other, and there are things that women bring to the table that men don’t that can make the overall computer experience better,” Holtmann said.
Her father is an Air Force veteran who retired from UNO after teaching physics and working in computing there.
When he heard about the Women in IT effort, he thought, “This is really something good.”
Shirley Hartranft agreed. She remembers Jean as a child sitting on her father’s lap playing with his tie tack, which was a working, miniature slide rule.
Now the Hartranfts are hoping their gift will benefit the next generation of women in computing — maybe even their own three teenage granddaughters.