Maryland Applied Graduate Engineering Student Diane Ditko is Paving the Way for Women in STEM
Student Diane Ditko had always been passionate about technology and computer science. After completing her undergraduate degree in Computer Science from the University of Mary Washington, she began working for the United States Navy at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia in support of the Fleet Ballistic Missile weapon system. She started in a branch that performs mainly Systems Engineering and has since added Cybersecurity to its responsibilities. It was at work that Ditko realized that a persistent and recurring problem with the systems they were building was the friction and misunderstandings between the engineers and the cybersecurity experts. To learn more about cybersecurity and to become a better systems engineer, Ditko decided to pursue a Masters in Engineering (M.Eng.) in Cybersecurity with a Graduate Certificate in Software Engineering through Maryland Applied Graduate Engineering at the University of Maryland.
Ditko chose the University of Maryland following a recommendation from a friend. Maryland Applied Graduate Engineering at the University of Maryland was also on the approved programs list at work, which meant that her tuition would be paid by her employer. Ditko thought that the program would tie her computer science and systems engineering skills together, helping her advance her career.
Ditko chose to complete her M.Eng. online because she was working full time, and driving to the University of Maryland campus would be a long commute. She feels the online format is especially advantageous as she can re-watch the lectures to refresh her memory or help deepen her understanding of the course material.
As a woman working in a male-dominated field, Ditko finds inspiration in the history of her field. “Did you know computing was originally considered women's work because it was so tedious?” she asks. “That it wasn't until the debut of the Personal Computer in the 80s that men decided it was cool and took it over? My group has been around so long, we started with a lot of women! Those pioneers taught us all what it meant to be a woman in a male dominated field and I have been incredibly fortunate to have so many good role models.”
One specific figure that Ditko would like to highlight is Gladys West, who also worked at Dahlgren. “She was largely responsible for the development of GPS,” Ditko explains. “Did you know Dahlgren had some of the first computers as early as the 1940s-1950s? The people I work with today came from that very first group of women working on those giant computers that took up entire rooms.”
“Did you know computing was originally considered women's work because it was so tedious? That it wasn't until the debut of the Personal Computer in the 80s that men decided it was cool and took it over? My group has been around so long, we started with a lot of women! Those pioneers taught us all what it meant to be a woman in a male dominated field and I have been incredibly fortunate to have so many good role models.”
Considering herself fortunate to work in a department where she feels that the ratio of men to women is around 2:3, Ditko generally does not experience stereotypical gender issues day-to-day, but does recognize the disparity between men and women in the field when attending meetings with external organizations.
In high school, Ditko felt opposition from her high school science teacher when she expressed an interest in STEM, which almost drove her away from the field. “My computer science teacher did not hide his sexism and completely turned me off from the field altogether. I took one programming class in college as a gen ed class thinking it would be an easy A, and it completely turned things around for me. The Computer Science Department was half women and they were very encouraging and kept convincing me to sign up for more classes every semester until I eventually ended up majoring in computer science.”
Another challenge that Ditko has faced was discovering that she had ADHD, which she called an “invisible obstacle” on her career and education path, receiving the new diagnosis about 70% of the way through her graduate coursework. “I didn't realize I was working 2 or 3 times harder than the other students and at work. No wonder I was so tired all the time,” she says. Treating her learning disorder has helped her coursework significantly and helped push her towards the finish line.
Outside of work and school, Ditko cares for her two cats, Kaylee and Katara, is working towards her brown belt in jiu jitsu, and has been exploring new hobbies like rock climbing and ice climbing.
Recently, Ditko received a promotion that she had not expected to get until after finishing school this semester. Additionally, with encouragement from faculty member Dr. Tony Barber, she learned that she qualified for and then earned her Certified Systems Engineering Professional (CSEP) credential through the Internal Council on System Engineering (INCOSE). Of her future, Ditko says, “I am enjoying the new work I've taken on and I want to keep growing as a Systems Engineer and a Cybersecurity professional.”
Published March 16, 2023