Stephanie Orr: Women in Technology @ OSU

Although only 30 percent of today’s tech industry(link is external) is female, women have contributed in huge ways to technology(link is external) over the years. From Susan Kare who is often known as “the Betsy Ross of the Personal Computer,” Grace Hopper, a pioneer for programming to Radia Perlman, the network engineer that made Ethernet technology a household name.

This month, we’re taking a look at the stories behind women in technology at Ohio State. We’re kicking things off with Stephanie Orr, the Associate Director of Learning Experience for Ohio State’s Office of Distance Education and eLearning(link is external). Orr oversees several technology-based campus programs like Digital Unions(link is external)Affordable Learning Exchange(link is external) and Innovative Spaces(link is external).  

Can you describe your day-to-day job?

I lead the Learning Experience team, made up of 6 full-time staff and around 20 students, within the Office of Distance Education and eLearning. The work I do day-to-day revolves around the work they’re doing. Much of the time I am in meetings that are either related to the team’s work or the organization overall. I align our efforts towards the goals for ODEE and facilitate collaboration between the ODEE teams and other groups across campus. With my team leads, we prioritize our work and develop strategies for keeping the operational work going and moving our new initiatives forward. This sounds kind of high level, and it is. I’m definitely less involved in the creation of the amazing deliverables that my team creates. Sometimes I miss that, but overall I’m really satisfied with finding the creativity in managing people and teams.

When (and how) did you decide to work in the technology field? 

I didn’t really “decide” to work in technology, I evolved into it. My background is in art and science, with a BFA in Fine Arts and an MS in Medical Illustration. In undergrad, I wasn’t very fond of the type of art being created using computers and I assumed that they weren’t for me. Then in grad school, I had a couple of courses that helped me get the results I wanted using computers and I was off. After graduating, one of my first jobs was working for a woman who owned a small interactive firm. As the only woman on the leadership team, it was interesting to see her operate. I learned a lot about being professional, understanding what skills I brought to my job and being true to myself. This job was so valuable in helping me gain a lot of experience in many roles and really understanding what it was like to be part of a technology team.

What advice can you give young women who would like to take on a position in the technology field? 

I think it’s really important to find opportunities to network and meet people in your field. Being able to ask them questions about their work or asking them for insight into developing your path, is really valuable. Joining related professional organizations is a great way to meet people and find potential mentoring opportunities. On a more personal level, defining your strengths and connecting those to the role you seek is really important to being successful and feeling fulfilled. Also defining your values and what meaningful work looks like for you is important in narrowing down an area of focus within technology.

How do you stay up-to-date with new trends in the technology world? 

I tap into edtech blogs and websites, network with colleagues at other institutions and go to conferences. Because I’ve been in this role for only a year, I continue to learn a lot from my team as they explore ways to do our work and take it to the next level. I also pay attention to what’s happening in areas that aren’t necessarily related to technology, for instance around leadership or team building, because that’s probably where I can impact my team most.

Is there any technology that you are particularly excited about right now? Why? 

Active learning and open educational resources (OER) are exciting areas for my team right now. These are actually less focused on technology and more about teaching. I can connect with the concept of active learning because of facilitation work I’ve done. I appreciate that it engages the student and creates environments for collaborative learning. Through our Affordable Learning Exchange(link is external) initiative, we are helping faculty adopt, adapt or even create open content. Our first cohort is underway and is already going to save students around one million dollars in the first year. As a first-generation college graduate that put myself through school, I really feel good about being part of that.

What has been your favorite moment/experience from working in the technology field? 

The thing I like best about working with technology is the problem solving aspect. I love having someone come to me with a problem and helping them talk through their project to nail down what they really want. Then being able to talk through technology options, sometimes beyond what they considered, and getting to a solution they are excited about. It’s so rewarding to provide a deliverable that meets or exceeds expectations and adds value. In education particularly, it’s also meaningful to know that my work is helping students.

What has been the hardest part of working in the technology field? 

Keeping up with change is definitely an exciting, but also challenging, part of working in technology. It can also be hard keeping technology accessible to people that are intimidated or resistant to using it. I think my art background actually helps me with this. What I particularly liked about medical illustration was that I was always learning about anatomy, procedures, surgical techniques, or innovative research. I had to be able to understand it enough to distill and simplify the information into the most critical parts required to visually tell the story. A lot of problem solving and translating involved in both fields.

This feature blog post is part of our #OSUWomenInTech campaign. Hear more stories from female leaders involved in technology at Ohio State by following us on Twitter @TechHubOSU(link is external) and stopping in store to see our digital signage features. Are you interested in getting involved with technology? Don’t forget to check out our Student Developer Kit(link is external) and student project development grant opportunities.