Thirty-three years ago, when Giti Javidi arrived in America from Iran to go to college, only two other women were in her computer science classes.

Javidi went on to earn her Ph.D. and specialize in human-computer interaction, but even as her own career advanced, it disturbed her that the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) remained. As late as 2016, only 19 percent of computer and information science bachelor’s degrees and 26 percent of computing jobs were held by women, says Javidi, who joined the faculty of University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee in 2016.

For that reason, Javidi has been working for the last 12 years on the national and local levels to increase participation and retention of women in STEM fields. In 2017, she was awarded a $35,000 Google grant to teach Sarasota and Manatee high school teachers how to teach the computer sciences, especially to females and minorities; and this year, she won a $10,000 grant from the National Center for Women & Information Technology for a summer workshop to encourage local high school girls to go into STEM. Her efforts have won her USF’s 2018 Women in Leadership and Philanthropy Research Award.

The main obstacle is not aptitude or that women want to stay home with children. “It is the sociocultural factors,” she says. “Girls don’t think they belong. My ultimate goal is that all of us in these fields can change the future for girls. Tell them they belong, you fit in, you have a place here.”

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