Dr. Scott Ferguson works with a student in the new Science Center.
Learning from Experience

Empowering women to engage in STEM disciplines

When Debbie Joy began working in the technology industry 40 years ago, the field was dominated by men. For the most part, it’s still that way. Women did make some gains in the 1990s, but the numbers have begun to drop off again – despite the focus on STEM disciplines (Science Technology, Engineering and Math), Debbie said.

“I would go to conferences of 500 people, maybe 10 of which were women – so I needed to learn to be ‘one of the guys’,” she recalls.

The ongoing absence of women in this high-demand industry – and recognition of the value that study abroad experiences can have for students – prompted the 1976 Computer Science graduate at Fredonia to establish the Debbie Joy Scholarship to encourage female Computer Science majors to enhance their education through a study abroad experience.

Debbie began her career as a software engineer for a major hospitality chain. Technology leadership roles for both Fortune 500 and start-up tech companies, such as DEC, Unisys and Netigy, followed. She joined Computer Sciences Corporation as lead solution architect in 2005, serving as solution executive for large global accounts. In this capacity, she provided leadership in determining the global strategic direction for the use of technology and architecture to enable key business initiatives for Fortune 100 companies.

International business travel for Joy was primarily centered in Mexico and Canada but expanded dramatically when Debbie joined the International Division of Digital Equipment Corp., the second largest computer company in the world, initially serving as a networking technical support technician before becoming a technology evangelist and technical executive client partner.

Over the course of 10 years, she visited most of the countries in the Asia Pacific region on multiple occasions, along with countries in Europe and the Caribbean. That globe-trotting itinerary took Debbie to Hong Kong (more than 100 times), Australia (over 50 times), Singapore (over 40 times) and India (over 20 times). She’s also been to Malaysia, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Sweden, Luxembourg and New Zealand.

Clearly, it would be an understatement to suggest that Debbie clearly recognizes the value of a study abroad experience – something that wasn’t part of her education at Fredonia.

“Pretty much any career these days requires a global understanding of business and other cultures. Meeting and befriending people of other cultures allowed me to see things from different perspectives, which gave me an advantage in my career because I didn’t only view things from a U.S. perspective,” Debbie explains.

By creating the scholarship, Debbie, who retired at the end of 2015 from IBM, will enable more Fredonia female students to have an international experience through a study abroad program arranged through Fredonia’s Office of International Education. The annual scholarship, initially valued at $550 in 2013, has grown to $1,350.

Adding a study abroad experience will give female students that something extra on her resume when she’s looking for that first job, Debbie explained, especially if she goes to one of the future giants in technology, such as in India or China and is able to learn the language and the culture during her studies there.

Ziya Arnavut, chair of the Computer and Information Sciences Department, echoes Debbie’s ringing assessment of study abroad experiences. “The benefits of such experience are many,” he explained, and include better understanding of cultures, promoting world peace and building international friendships and contacts.

Debbie is a founder and past president of the Phoenix chapter of the Alliance of Technology and Women, a non-profit that supports women and men worldwide in executive roles and encourages women and girls to enter technology fields. She also belongs to the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Communications Society.