North Texas Daily

Computer Science and Information Technology senior breaks gender and ethnicity barriers

Computer Science and Information Technology senior breaks gender and ethnicity barriers

Computer Science and Information Technology senior breaks gender and ethnicity barriers
February 04
00:27 2014

Olivia Sylvain // Staff Writer

Since UNT was established in 1890, it’s becoming increasingly harder to be the “first” at the university – but senior Cjivona Hicks carries the honor and challenge of being the first African American woman in the challenging and fast-paced field of Computer Science and Information Technology.

Although she’s not a natural in the field, Hicks was driven to succeed, and as she prepares to graduate she looks forward to working as an ambassador for the program to increase its diversity and break the traditional stereotypes.

“It just makes me feel like I have to work harder,” Hicks said. “I need to graduate, I need to get a good GPA. Anybody can be the first at something, but how good were they?”

Hicks grew up in Hot Springs, Ark., a small town an hour north of Little Rock, where an education in computer technology was hard to find. The town lacked the advanced equipment and qualified educators to teach students about computer technology.

“It’s more of a retirement town,” Hicks said. “There is no city life, just mountains — my backyard was just mountains. Students aren’t exposed to a lot of different technology.”

Hicks, now 23, graduated from high school in 2009 and spent one semester at National Park Community College in Hot Springs before coming to North Texas to attend North Central Texas Community College. Her aunt encouraged her to enroll at UNT and Hicks transferred soon after looking into the university. Three years later, Hicks believes she made the right decision.

“UNT is really the place to be,” Hicks said. “I’ve learned so much by being here.”

The CSIT program is part of the College of Engineering, focusing on both computer maintenance and computer technology, such as operating systems, games, databases and apps. The IT field is one dominated by men, and according to some people, lacks room for women, Hicks said. One of the first things she noticed was that in many of her classes she was the only African-American and the only woman.

Computer science and engineering principle lecturer David Keathly said he believes women still face many challenges in the IT field because of male stereotypes, kept alive by parents and educators who do not have a good understanding of what people in technical fields do.

“In actuality, we need the skills and perspectives of all genders, ethnicities and cultures in engineering and technology as we tackle problems that are often global in nature and reach,” Keathly said.

After teaching her in several classes over the past few years, Keathly noticed her hard work and passion for her education. Hicks does not let being a minority in the classroom limit her education.

Hicks was recently approached by Dr. Constastinos Tsatsoulis, dean of the College of Engineering, about being an ambassador for the college. This position would include travelling to high schools in Texas to inform students about the CSIT program. Hicks sees this as a chance to share her experience and encourage young students to take advantage of the opportunities available at UNT.

RTVF senior Erica Mitchell is Hicks’ roommate and friend of more than 10 years. Like Hicks, she was determined to go to school outside of Arkansas to have more opportunities and earn a broader education, and is impressed with her friend’s hard work.

“A lot of people don’t make it, but she really stuck with it,” Mitchell said. “She put a lot of hours in to understand the things she is learning.”

Although Hicks admitted she is not a natural at technology and computer science, she enjoys the learning process and finds it interesting. This factor alone keeps her motivated to work through any challenges she faces in her classes.

Hicks is preparing to graduate in May of 2015. She hopes to find a career designing fun and useful apps for cell phones. She plans to reach out to students in small towns, giving them the resources needed to pursue an education in computer technology.

Senior engineer major Cjivona Hicks coding a program in a computer  lab at UNT's Discovery Park. Photo by Kelsey Littlefield / Staff Photographer

Engineering senior Cjivona Hicks coding a program in a computer
lab at UNT’s Discovery Park. Photo by Kelsey Littlefield / Staff Photographer

Feature photo: Engineering senior Cjivona Hicks. Photo courtesy of Cjivona Hicks

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