Cynthia Stoddard is senior vice president and chief technology officer (CTO) of Customer Solutions at NetApp. As CTO, she is responsible for leading the end-to-end execution of NetApp clustered Data ONTAP adoption for current and prospective customers while being NetApp’s number-one customer advocate. She is the executive sponsor of the NetApp on NetApp and Customer-1 initiatives, both designed to share IT’s experiences using NetApp technologies and to enable NetApp customers to succeed.
In her previous role, Cynthia was the chief information officer (CIO) at NetApp. Since she became CIO, in 2012, she evolved IT to deliver business value beyond traditional boundaries by focusing on innovation, service delivery, and strategic partnerships. While CIO, Cynthia won the 2014 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders Award and was twice named to the Huffington Post’s Top 100 Most Social CIOs. Under her leadership, NetApp IT was recognized in the Information Week 500 (in 2012 and 2013) and the Information Elite 100 (2014).
Cynthia has over 25 years of business experience providing IT expertise leading large global organizations in supply chain, retail, and technology companies. Before joining NetApp, she was group vice president of IT at Safeway, Inc. Other positions she has held include group CIO for NOL Group, the parent of APL Ltd.; as well as executive roles in other global transportation companies.
Cynthia holds a bachelor of science degree in accounting from Western New England University, from which she graduated cum laude, and an MBA from Marylhurst University.
Millions of girls around our country constantly try to fit in. Whether it’s in the classroom or in the hallways, girls struggle to understand where they fit in the gap between being a smart kid and being a cool kid.
Where did we get the idea that being a smart girl means that you’re a nerd or worse, that being a smart girl isn’t cool?
According to engineeringdegree.net, only 12% of engineering students are women and only 20% of women who received a math or science degree actually work in their field of study. Given the scarcity of female role models, the peer pressure to be cool, and the notion that math and science are traditionally “male” fields, it’s easy to see why girls lose interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) opportunities.
Why does this belief start so early?
When girls are very young, most are fearless when it comes to learning. Consider something as simple as learning to walk. When taking that first step, toddlers hear parents’ encouragement and support. They are empowered to keep trying, even if they fall down. When they learn to count by 10s, build a pyramid with blocks, or discover a faster way to play on an iPad®, the same holds true. Kids—including girls—have boundless creativity and are excited about what they do.
Research shows that to keep girls interested in STEM, we must preserve the same determination found in early childhood. We have to influence all children to bridge the gap and make geeky cool.
Here are four important things I believe we can do today to change the current paradigm:
- Catch them while they are young.
Little girls are naturally very eager to learn about science, technology, engineering, and math. This interest and passion must be nurtured. We can start by showing young girls all of the exciting possibilities of STEM and then convince them that they can learn and do anything if they work hard enough. Too often, girls are not encouraged to develop the confidence they need to continue in higher-level math and science courses in high school.
Also, it’s important to tell young girls about the different STEM careers that stretch beyond the data center and the laboratory. STEM career options encompass all types of cool jobs, such as being a zookeeper, a meteorologist, a doctor, a crime scene investigator, and even a baseball statistician who helps scouts judge talent.
- Make STEM a hands-on learning experience.
In my experience, children and young adults like to solve problems. What is more, finding a solution to a problem builds confidence, and it also encourages exploration. With this in mind, I am a firm believer that we need to provide hands-on STEM learning in addition to standard textbooks. STEM students should be given opportunities to explore with their hands, whether it be participating in an engineering design process, building a video game, or studying water usage at their school. These types of projects can help improve critical thinking, communication, and collaboration skills.
As a high school student, I used my skills to design mouse mazes for science fair competitions. We used complex algorithms to calculate how the different shapes slowed a mouse down. It was challenging, fun, and cool. And I was able to become more confident in my skills by demonstrating them to others.
- Say “Math is cool.”
I’ve always loved math for as long as I can remember. Early in my childhood and throughout my career, math has helped me solve problems. If solving a math equation was challenging, my teachers taught me to keep trying. I learned early on that my math skills improved with repeated practice. And with practice my overall disciple and critical-thinking skills also improved. This helped set me on a path to the cool world of STEM.
- Be a mentor and a role model.
It’s incumbent on those of us in STEM careers to be active as role models and mentors and to talk with young girls who love STEM disciplines but might be afraid to show it. We need to tell them that it’s cool to be good at science and math. We need to show the possibilities to girls who believe that they aren’t naturally good at STEM disciplines. By sharing our experiences, lessons learned, and mistakes, we can help develop future talent and learn something about ourselves at the same time.
Personally, one lesson I like sharing as a mentor is that success comes from hard work, preparation, and self-confidence—not just intelligence. No one should tell us that we’ll fail or aren’t good enough or that someone can do it better than we can. If someone does, I say it’s an opportunity to prove that person wrong.