The 2013-2014 school year has been a busy one for women at Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU).   My last blog for the spring semester examines two women who have been a part of SPSU history for over 30 years (Ms. Bennie Sue Houck and Prof. Roth). As well it takes a look at SPSU’s final celebration of Women’s History Month that occurred in March (yes, next March we will officially be consolidated with Kennesaw State University under the name Kennesaw State University). Women often are not featured prominently in the annals of history for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematical (STEM) fields so this is an opportunity to look at a staff member and a professor at SPSU who have worked at SPSU using their computer science skills as well as to reflect on women who have made history (both locally and globally) for their contributions to STEM fields.

Bennie Sue Houck

Bennie Houck poses by an SPSU sign.
Bennie Houck poses by an SPSU sign.

Bennie Sue Houck has worked at SPSU for 38 years. In fact, SPSU was the Southern Technical Institute when she began work on April 1, 1976, as a keypunch operator in the computer center. Having taken a computer programming class my senior year of high school in 1979, I imagine that the computer she used was probably the size of a small classroom. Registration took place with IBM keypunch cards; when Bennie ran out of cards, classes were closed.

Bennie next used a key-to-disk tape system for registration. Since I had no idea how such a system worked, I looked it up. According to a website titled Computer Students, such a system was set up for data entry using numerous terminals. The data was then transferred to the main computer after its input had been completed using magnetic tape storage. In the mid1970s, SPSU moved to Banner software for managing registration and student records. This software was created by the Systems and Computer Technology Corp to serve the needs of college campuses and is still being used today.

In 1980 Bennie transferred to the Registrar’s Office where she continued to work with student records and data. While working in the Registrar’s Office, she has also served as a member of Staff Council (she is currently serving another two-year term). It’s not surprising given her dedication to the university that she has won three important awards: “Outstanding Employee of the Year” in 1987, “Outstanding Southern Polytechnic Woman” in 2003, and “Outstanding Staff of the Year” in 2007.

As a staff member of the Registrar’s Office she has seen numerous changes. The Southern Technical Institute separated from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1980, and Dr. Stephen Cheshire became the first president of the school. In 1987 the university’s name was changed to the Southern College of Technology, and in 1996 it became known as SPSU. After Dr. Cheshire retired, Dr. Rossbacher was hired in 1998 as its latest president.

Bennie has seen the original circle drive of SPSU become part of the interior of campus, and a new circle drive built in areas that were once wooded. She has seen on-campus housing expand from two dormitories to include apartment living, a third dormitory, and special interest housing. She has seen the addition of the J Building, the Architecture Building, the Technology Building, the parking deck, and Stingers’ restaurant to the campus.

Bennie sees SPSU as her home. Her daughters, who were two and four when she started at SPSU, feel they grew up on a college campus, and now her grandchildren feel the same way. Bennie says, “I have always felt like this was home, and it will always be MY home even when the consolidation is complete. In my heart I feel like I am a pillar to the community for my knowledge of things I have learned over the years. I will always take with me what Southern Polytechnic State University has given me: strength, knowledge, and friendship, for I truly enjoy my job and what I can give to my community.”

Patricia (Pat) Pierce

Prof. Patricia (Pat) Pierce has taught at SPSU for 32 years. She began teaching part time at SPSU in 1982 in the Industrial Engineering Technology program. Her background from IBM had prepared her to teach programming, and

Pat (Roth) Pierce
Pat (Roth) Pierce of Computer Science and Software Engineering.

she taught COmmon Business-Oriented Language (Cobol) and Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code (Basic) for the program.

Pat took a bit of a circuitous route to get to SPSU. In 1963 she graduated cum laude in Mathematics from Dunbarton College of Holy Cross in Washington, D.C. She then worked full time for IBM right out of college. At IBM she met her future husband, married, and they had five children. She quit her job at IBM to raise her children, but in 1966 she began to teach part-time at community colleges and universities as the family moved across the country for her husband’s job with IBM. They landed in Georgia in 1981, and in 1982 she began at SPSU.

When the University System of Georgia (USG) indicated that everyone who taught in a USG institution had to have at least a Master’s Degree, Pat headed back to the classroom to earn her M.S. in SPSU’s newly minted Software Engineering program. In 2002 Pat earned her degree and she began to teach again at SPSU for the Yamacraw program and taught engineers at Lockheed Martin to become computer science engineers. After teaching in the Yamacraw program, a full-time computer science position opened up at SPSU, and Dr. Becky Rutherfoord suggested that Pat apply for the position. Since Pat’s husband was now deceased and her youngest son was headed to college, she applied and became a full-time lecturer for the Computer Science Department. In 2008 she was promoted to Senior Lecturer and became the first senior lecturer at SPSU. Pat is the faculty sponsor for the student Association for Computer Machinery (ACM), and she is the Undergraduate Curriculum Coordinator for Computer Science. She was recently inducted into the Lambda Chapter at SPSU of Upsilon Pi Epsilon, an international honor society that recognizes academic excellence at both the undergraduate and graduate levels in the computing and information disciplines.

Pat has seen numerous changes to the Computer Science and Software Engineering Department at SPSU during her time teaching computer science. According to the Computer Science and Software Engineering website, it opened its doors to students in 1983 as the Department of Computer Information Systems Technology. At that time it offered Associate and Bachelor Degrees in Computer Information Systems Technology. Students completing a Bachelor’s Degree could focus on Information Systems or on Technical Analysis.

Change came fast for the department. In 1986 it eliminated the associate degree and in 1987 dropped “technology” from the department name, becoming the Department of Computer Information Systems. 1987 also marked the year in which the department added a degree option in artificial intelligence. A year later the department had another name change, becoming the Department of Applied Computer Science; during the same year it renamed the Information Systems degree option Software Engineering and renamed the Technical Analysis degree option Technical Applications. In 1989, the Bachelor’s Degree was re-designated as a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Applied Computer Science.

1993 marked the next change when the department was renamed Computer Science and the B.S. Degree was renamed Computer Science as well. Since then the department became a school, and it added graduate degrees, changed the primary degree name to Computer Science and Software Engineering, and added degrees in Information Technology, Software Engineering, and Computer Game Development and Design.

Pat has seen the school through all of these changes. Other than Cobol and Basic, Pat has taught FORTRAN, Pascal, and C at SPSU. She currently teaches Java and C++ in the beginning programming courses. She has also taught Introduction to the Disciplines, Database Systems, and Data Structures.

Women’s History Month

SPSU women gather on the spiral staircase in the J building.
SPSU women gather on the spiral staircase in the J building.

For Women’s History Month this past March, Dr. Laura Beth Daws and Prof. Kelsey Harr-Lagin (both Communication professors in the English, Technical Communication, and Media Arts Department) worked with a committee of women to create a program of activities to celebrate the month. They had two goals in mind: 1) to celebrate all women at SPSU as part of its history, and 2) to celebrate women who have been part of U.S. history.

The celebration of women at SPSU was kicked off by a gathering of women on the spiral staircase of the J Building to capture in one picture as many women (faculty, staff, and students) as possible who are currently part of SPSU’s ongoing history. Several departments such as the Biology and Chemistry Department, the Physics Department, and the Mechanical Engineering Technology Department honored women working in their fields of study by hosting bulletin board information acknowledging their contributions. Librarian Amy Coughenour and Ann Lay, the Secretary to Dean Jeff Ray of the Engineering and Technology School, put together information concerning the history of women at SPSU and placed it in the library display cases.

Workshops, panels, movie screenings and discussions, a featured speaker, and a virtual scavenger hunt created many opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to get involved. They are listed below:

  • A Linkedin Profile Workshop led by Sarah Weldon.
  • Two Panel discussions. One panel was hosted by librarian Amy Coughenour on the Roles of Men that featured Dr. Han Reichgelt, Dr. Bob Harbort, librarian Aaron Wimer, Marcel Sands and Cameron Burnette. The other was hosted by Dr. Jeanne Bohannon concerning women in STEM and featured students from one of her Composition II classes.
  • Several movie viewings and discussions. Dr. Daws presented Miss Representation, the women of Biology and Chemistry presented Silent Spring, Cheryl Dobson presented Temple Grandin, and Cathy Smith and Rebecca LeBrve presented Wangari Maathai.
  • A featured speaker. The Business Administration Department brought Cynthia Cooper, the WorldComm Whistleblower to campus.
  • The Virtual Scavenger Hunt. Students could participate in this Instagram contest by taking photos of events,
    Ariyanna White (middle) won the Virtual Scavenger Hunt.
    Ariyanna White (middle) won the Virtual Scavenger Hunt.

    bulletin boards, and other assigned things to compete for winning gift certificates.

Events wrapped up with a reception and award ceremony on March 31, 2014. Jeanne Bohannon’s class had created a power-point slideshow of the activities, and it ran in the background during the reception. Ariyanna White took home the first place prize for the Virtual Scavenger Hunt. Dr. Daws and Prof. Harr-Lagin have already begun to plan for next spring for what will then be called the South campus of Kennesaw State University.


As SPSU’s history moves on to a new phase, no one can be completely sure what that will mean for the women who currently attend classes, provide services, and teach on the campus. However, what is clear is the need for women to continue to participate in the STEM fields. According to the White House’s “Office of Science and Technology Policy” (OSTP) website, “the Obama Administration understands that fostering an open and diverse scientific community that draws from an array of unique experiences and viewpoints is a necessary step to realizing its goal of developing world-class talent in STEM fields.”

Not only are women an important resource for STEM fields, but these fields of study also provide women with an opportunity to earn more income than their counterparts. The OSTP website goes on to state that women in STEM fields make 33% more than women in other fields make.

Unfortunately women still face obstacles when attempting to create careers in these fields. A fact sheet at the OSTP website indicates the need for better working conditions so that women do not dropout of STEM careers. The fact sheet indicates that currently women earn 41% of the Ph.D. degrees in STEM fields, but only make up 28% of the tenure-track faculty in the same fields.

Of importance to the White House is increased program flexibility that encourages family friendly practices. In 2011 the National Science Foundation’s Career-Life Balance Initiative was announced. According to Dr. Subra Suresh, It is important “to provide incentives that will effect change in institutions that result in gender-neutral policies and practices that lead to the increased participation and advancement of women scientists and engineers in the scientific enterprise.”

Thus, it’s important that those who continue to work with female faculty, staff, and students in the STEM fields continue to examine the ways in which we can foster a community that equally encourages and supports women and men. It’s important that we explore the ways we can encourage girls to think of themselves as future scientists, engineers, computer scientists, and mathematicians; to encourage them to take the coursework necessary to succeed; and to support them throughout the process.

Whether the campus has as its name “SPSU” or “KSU’s Polytechnic Campus” or “KSU South,” it can continue to work on creating an atmosphere that encourages both men and women to succeed in STEM fields.