By Phoebe Suy | Staff Writers
Cindy Fry was 6 years old when she sat on her dad’s lap and watched Apollo 11 land the first two humans on the moon.
“Dad, I want to do that,” she remembers saying. Her father told her she could do whatever she wanted to do. The rest isn’t history, it’s today’s story of women seeking careers in fields like STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), the military and even ministry.
Now a senior lecturer in Baylor’s computer science department, Fry said in the last couple of years she has seen more and more women enter the field. When Fry attended Texas A&M University for her undergraduate degree in industrial engineering, she said there were only a handful of women in a class of several hundred.
Fry said she is delighted more women are discovering they have an aptitude in computer science and are persevering despite the discipline’s difficulties.
“I think in our culture there are beginning to be a lot more positive female role models in TV or movies. When you see other women doing really incredible things, it makes you feel like it’s possible,” Fry said.
In addition to computer science and engineering being hard disciplines, Fry said, there are some false stereotypes women in particular may face. Some of these stereotypes suggest only men are good at computer science, only men understand the hardware or all the males in class have the right answer.
“It’s hearing things from guys but not hearing those same things from girls,” Fry said. “When I was in college and about to go take my first job, one of my mom’s friends who had been in business for a long time told me, ‘Cindy, you need to be careful. You need to make sure that you’re treated fairly.’”
Fry’s first job was at NASA where she worked for the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville Ala., as a project cost engineer and later as a senior project engineer and science operations director. Fry’s nine years at NASA gave her the opportunity to work on the Hubble Space Telescope before it launched.
Fry also worked for the U.S. Navy as a scientific and technical intelligence officer.
Throughout her career in computer science and engineering, Fry said she never experienced unfair treatment as a result of her gender. She attributes some of this to her father, who encouraged her in many ways.
“Something else that my dad told me was, ‘Cindy, be the best engineer. If you’re a good engineer, nobody’s going to care about the color of your skin, your gender, your eye color, how tall you are, what clothes you wear, I mean anything. Because the world needs good people and in particular, NASA needs good engineers and good computer scientists. They need talent. They don’t care what the talent looks like, so if you act like a good engineer you’re going to be treated like a good engineer.’”
Fry said her father’s advice still holds true today. Throughout the various roles she has played, Fry said she never made gender a subject of discussion. For her, the only subject of discussion was the quality of her work.
“I know what I’m telling you about my own experience may not be true for other women in STEM fields, but for me it has been true,” Fry said. “I wish that were the case for all of us. The merit of our work is what got us where we are, not who you know. I guess some of that’s unrealistic, but still, if you’re doing good work, the world needs good work.”
If any woman meets the requirements for the U.S. military and desires to serve their country, Honolulu senior Katie Zamora said she believes there should be nothing stopping her. If anything, Zamora said any fear or intimidation should be motivation for women to join and show off what they can bring to the table.
Zamora comes from a military family. Because her dad is in the U.S. Air Force, Zamora had several homes throughout her upbringing. She has lived in Arizona, Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, Hawaii and Germany.
“I think [a military career] started to really resonate with me when I became a junior or senior in high school,” Zamora said.”I think doing Junior ROTC in high school really had a strong effect on me. I had really good professors who really motivated me and pushed me to be better and to recognize my own leadership potential.”
Zamora said she started high school as a relatively quiet and reserved person, but Junior ROTC forced her to get out of her shell. Zamora said she was put into leadership positions her freshman year of high school, where she was responsible for accountability and making sure she knew where her classmates were. She recalled that the little responsibilities built upon one another throughout the four years of high school.
It was during these transformative years in Junior ROTC that Zamora said she got to know one of the strongest and toughest women she’d ever met, Master Sgt. Van der Kaap.
“She would see these qualities in you that you wouldn’t necessarily see in yourself and she was really my number one influence when I was in high school,” Zamora said. “She knew how important it was for women to step up because at the time she had come in, there weren’t very many women in the service. She was African-American as well, so it wasn’t a predominant thing back then.”
Zamora said Van der Kaap took her under her wing and encouraged her to go to college to become an officer in the U.S. Air Force rather than enlisting right after high school. Van der Kaap motivated her to work on her confidence and physical fitness so she could be competitive going into ROTC at college, Zamora said.
“In my yearbook [Van der Kaap] wrote ‘to lean in,’ which was this initiative started by Sheryl Sandberg. This was the first time I had heard about it,” Zamora said. “It was really about bringing women to the table and having them really involved in decision-making. So that was my master sergeant telling me, ‘Hey, when you come in, no matter what organization you’re a part of — especially if you come into the military where women are the minority — make sure you’re confident in yourself and in your decision-making to come in, join the table and lean in and actually participate in conversation.’”
Zamora said that was just the push she needed, and one that has resonated with her ever since.
“At the end of the day, we’re all still people. It doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman leading you or if you’re the one leading them, you need to treat everyone with the same amount of respect and make sure that they’re all in a good place and that they can perform to the best of their abilities,” Zamora said.
Baylor’s Air Force ROTC program has been Zamora’s life for the past three years. Her class started with 60 freshmen in the fall of 2014. A few years later Zamora said there are only nine left. Two other members of Zamora’s class joined their sophomore year, bringing up the total to 11 individuals in the class of 2018. Of the 11, three are women.
“All in all, joining the military, you can see that there are a lot less women, but over the years women have reached all these amazing landmarks, just being incredible leaders, reaching those high general ranks. When you see those [women], you know that walls are being broken,” Zamora said.
For Brownwood Truett Theological Seminary student Brianna Childs, some walls have yet to be broken. Childs said she believes in some cultural contexts, women are given boundaries strictly defining what means to be a strong woman in church ministry.
“I’ve seen Scripture interpreted, especially growing up in the Baptist tradition, that women just have certain roles that they are made to fulfill and that does not include head leadership, other than being a children’s minister, and even then, they often don’t get the title of pastor,” Childs said.
For Childs, what makes ministry a male-dominated field is not necessarily the facts, figures or statistics. She said she believes it is male-dominated in that leadership roles are often reserved for men, leaving women without the chance to express their voice.
“As I’ve gotten older and have been able to form my own opinions…I see just the calling of God and just following the Spirit wherever the Spirit leads is what makes you a strong woman,” Childs said.
Childs mentioned the ministry of Lottie Moon, a Southern Baptist missionary who served in China for nearly 40 years. Childs said it was interesting how women like Moon were held on a pedestal of amazing women who took the gospel to the nations, yet was not able to preach in American pulpits because of her gender.
Jesus is the one who broke cultural boundaries, Childs said. In the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus revealed Himself to a woman of a different culture who was looked down upon by the Jews. By ministering to her, Childs said the woman was able to be a missionary, pastor and preacher of the gospel of Christ.
Childs said a characteristic she hopes to be a defining factor of her identity is creating an environment for empowerment for the people around her, especially for those who are told their worth is less or their calling isn’t what they believe it is.
“I think the church is given this opportunity to be the place for women to have a voice around the world because culture often takes the voice away from women,” Childs said. “Whenever you look at the numbers of abuse and the numbers of trafficking and how women are oppressed for their gender within those things, the church has that opportunity to be the place for them to have a voice and for them to know that their worth is not found in those things that their culture tells them it is found in.”