Kate Baldwin: Carrying the Torch for Girls in Technology

Inspired by her dad and his computer hobby, Kate Baldwin launched her Xavier career as a computer science major and never looked back. Who cares that she was one of a handful of female students in some of her classes?

"Girls in Technology" became her mantra, and she reaped the rewards of her enthusiasm. By Thanksgiving of her senior year, Baldwin, who is from Maine, had a job offer from Cisco Systems. She took it, arriving in Raleigh, N.C., shortly after graduating in May 2011.

“It felt like a good fit,” she says. “That I got the job offer so early illustrates how the Computer Science program gives you a platform to really excel. You have to work hard, but the program gives you that advantage where you’re one step ahead because you’re already learning the skills that are in demand, and it opens the door to a very wide set of opportunities.”

Now, five years and a promotion later, she’s still promoting girls in technology in multiple ways—beginning with Cisco, where she was recently tapped as a program manager to lead large-scale training programs and to be the torchbearer at the Paralympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, in September.

 That I got the job offer so early illustrates how the Computer Science program gives you a platform to really excel.

It’s a great honor, she says between breaths. Knowing she has to complete the 800-meter run in Rio, Baldwin's training includes a treadmill desk and at the moment, she's walking at 1.5 mph.

Her tagline for Rio—“Carrying the torch for the next generation of 'Girls in Technology'”—is something Baldwin has been doing ever since her senior year at Xavier, when, for her capstone project, she sought a grant from Xavier’s Women of Excellence program and started a project called Girls Advancing Technology.

It was so successful that it has been held every spring, including this past April when it attracted about 50 middle-school age girls to engage in hands-on computer science activities—taking apart and reassembling a computer, developing a new product, coding. The goal is to expose them to careers in the computer industry.

Kate, upper left, and a group of Girls Advancing Technology at Xavier in April 2016.

“Middle school is a great age to catch them before they get the idea that math or computer science is not for girls,” she says. “One of the big barriers for women in our intro classes is that their male peers have been into computers and girls are so far behind they can’t catch up. But it’s not true.”

In fact, at Xavier, the professors in the department go out of their way to encourage the girls to do well. They are always available and are “completely invested in your success.”

“When I was a freshman there were some strong females already there and they were incredibly smart and someone to look up to. I thought if they could do it, I could do it,” Baldwin says. “Also Liz Johnson is one of the professors there and to have her there made it be normal.”

She also has found that Xavier’s liberal arts core gave her valuable communication skills that led to her promotion at work. The benefit of her Xavier education was a technical degree balanced by the communication skills learned from the English and composition courses that not all her peers at Cisco were required to take.

"That’s where the degree is so crucial because the skills are applicable to any industry," she says.