STEM Advantage Helps Computer Tech Majors Break Stereotypes

Logo final - 300 dpiJoyce Rockhold and Erica Tinsley aren’t your stereotypical math or science geeks.

They are women, for one. They are also African American.

However, being both could be to their advantage:  Women and minorities—particularly African American and Latinos—are viewed as the key to addressing the nation’s workforce needs in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions and ensuring the United States remains a global leader into the future.

It’s already proving advantageous for Rockhold and Tinsley. The two computer technology majors with an emphasis in homeland security are among 12 computer science or computer technology students—six women and six men—selected for a new scholarship program established by STEM Advantage in 2012 to support student success and provide its student recipients with opportunities they might not otherwise have. The nonprofit has partnered exclusively with CSU Dominguez Hills and the Computer Science Department for its inaugural year. Key to the program is its holistic approach; each STEM Advantage scholar is awarded nearly $8,000 for tuition, fees and books for the year, and in addition is placed in a paid internship in the IT department of a well-known company and connected with a mentor working in the IT field.

Joyce Rockhold at work at Sony

Joyce Rockhold at work at Sony

The news of her selection to the STEM Advantage program came as a “total shock” to Rockhold, but that quickly turned to gratitude.

“Then I became so thankful and appreciative,” she said. “I hope to be a part of the next wave; I hope to be one to give back, to pay it forward.”

Rockhold, a senior this year, has always been interested in computers, saying that getting a computer as a child, “the first thing I did was open the CPU. Typing on the keyboard came later.” She never thought that such a curiosity was something only boys could have.

“I haven’t really given the fact that it is mostly a male-dominated profession much thought,” she said. “I am just doing what I like and I do not believe my gender matters.”

It was a different story for Tinsley, who during her K-12 years did not see math or science as subjects for girls or, for that matter, “normal” students.

“As a girl, math and science–it wasn’t important to be successful in it,” she recalled. “And if you would meet someone who was good in math you would just kind of think they’re a genius, like that wasn’t normal….  You would create this visual that there [are] math people and then there [are] regular people.”

Erica Tinsley was interviewed for a video STEM Advantage produced to raise money for more scholarships.

Erica Tinsley was interviewed for a video STEM Advantage produced to raise money for more scholarships.

The shift for Tinsley came after high school, when her cousin Karrah Cunningham who was attending CSU Dominguez Hills told her about Antonia Boadi, adjunct faculty member in computer science at CSU Dominguez Hills. At the time, Tinsley knew she wanted something more out of life, and her friend’s description of how Dr. Boadi talked about empowering women in STEM got Tinsley thinking. She did an Internet search and was further impressed.

“What really attracted me to her is that she had multiple graduate degrees and had a Ph.D. and I was like, ‘This woman has done so much …. I would love to even get one degree,’” said Tinsley, currently a junior. “I had never met anyone who was like me, or that was a woman, or for that matter, of any race that had accomplished so much and I admired her for that.”

She enrolled in community college the next month, and in fall 2012 transferred to CSU Dominguez Hills to learn under Boadi.

Rockhold also credits Boadi for inspiring her and for encouraging her to apply for the STEM Advantage program.

“I can’t thank her enough. Without her, I would never have gotten to where I am today,” Rockhold said.

Where she is today is interning as a business analyst in the IT department for Sony Pictures Entertainment. She is one of two STEM Advantage scholars at Sony. Other high-profile companies providing internships through the program include Toyota, DirecTV, Hispanic Scholarship Fund, and Cognizant.

Like her fellow STEM Advantage scholars, Rockhold started the internship over the summer and has continued it into the fall semester. Much of her time is spent assisting the corporate IT division as it works to provide Sony’s many departments the functionality they need in the company’s computer system. This support requires strong customer service skills; Rockhold said having prior experience helped her.

But given her interest in homeland security, Rockhold jumped at the chance when asked if she wanted to spend some of her time this summer working with Sony’s computer forensics team. Now in her first forensics class this semester, she feels like she has an edge.

“Being at Sony and going into their forensics department, I got to learn all those things by seeing them [first hand]. Now I’m doing theory and I’m getting so much more out of it than if I had done the opposite. You get to see it before you learn it,” Rockhold said.

Through STEM Advantage Tinsley was placed in an internship with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. She said the experience has taught her more about the business aspects of IT, as well as how social media analytics are playing an increasingly important role in IT departments.

Just seven months since her selection as a STEM Advantage scholar, Tinsley said she now has a whole new look on her future. Thanks to all the people she’s met through interning at Hispanic Scholarship Fund and through her mentor, she has been exposed to many more options she could pursue. She is now seriously considering going to law school, with the intention of becoming a patent attorney.

“STEM Advantage has been a life-changing opportunity,” she said. “I’ve decided to go to law school to be a patent attorney because I have a passion for innovation and technology…. So when people produce their intellectual property I’ll be there to help them get their patent.”

Both women say that STEM Advantage’s three-pronged approach has been invaluable to their growth. It’s more than the financial support; it’s the exposure to a work environment and the connections they are making.

“The internship provides hands -on experience so that I have a better vision of what the theory means in the real world,” Rockhold said. “The scholarship relieves me of the financial stress I would have had to bear. The mentorship helps me calibrate my thinking and keeps me on the forward career track.”

Tinsley added that it’s also helpful knowing that people care about your success.

“They let you know how important it is to never give up and to work hard for things you want because you really can have it,” she said. “It’s just amazing to know that they actually really are on your side and they want to help you and get you the resources you need to help you attain your dreams and your goals.”

In addition to Rockhold and Tinsley, the following students are in the inaugural STEM Advantage program:

Reymarie Calazan (senior, computer science)

Amber Cosgrove (senior, computer technology/homeland security)

David Odierno (senior, computer technology/homeland security)

Daniel Rocha (senior, computer technology)

Matthew Roesger (junior, computer science)

Emily Saloj (junior, computer technology)

Lenard Segovia (junior, computer science)

Sidarin Sip (senior, computer technology/homeland security)

Robert Spengler (junior, computer technology/homeland security)

Rosalie Tallud (junior, computer science)


  1. Erica Tinsley says:

    I am very grateful for the STEM Advantage program. The entire experience so far has been a huge contributor to my own, and many of the other students success. The president of STEM Advantage, Lee Ann Kline, is very dedicated to this program and its mission to give students the opportunity to keep going with many resources and guidance along the way. As mentioned in the article, I am also very thankful to have met Dr. Boadi. She has been very inspiring and is an excellent role model to any woman that wants to overcome the phobia of STEM education. Dr. Boadi has been my biggest motivator.

    Thank you Amy Bentley-Smith for sharing this story!

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