SALISBURY, N.C. – Thanks to a $224,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College has rolled out a new Women in Engineering and Industrial Technologies (WE IT) initiative to promote the enrollment of women in fields related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

In partnership with the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program, WE IT aims to increase engagement and preparation of female students for high-tech careers that drive much of our nation’s economy.

“Today, manufacturers across the country are facing a gap between the technical skills their employees need and the skills they find in applicants. Women absolutely have the aptitude and ability to enter these career fields, but there remains some lack of awareness of the many lucrative opportunities available,” said Dr. Carol S. Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus. “Rowan-Cabarrus works to address barriers that prevent employers from finding skilled, well-trained candidates. The National Science Foundation grant enables us to further that mission.”

After considering medical billing and radiography, Rowan-Cabarrus student Amanda Kurtanich is pursuing an associate degree and plans to earn a bachelor’s degree and become an electrical engineer.

“I get a lot of comments like, ‘Oh, wow! Good for you!’ and praise for doing something I don’t feel should be abnormal in the first place,” Kurtanich said. “Women don’t go into these fields because we are ‘brave’ or ‘unique’ or ‘going against the status quo.’ We go into them because we have a passion to build, expand and create.”

The WE IT program leverages the strong collaboration among Rowan-Cabarrus, three K-12 school districts, and more than 40 partner employers of the North Carolina Manufacturing Institute to encourage women to explore engineering and industrial technology programs.

“Being one of the few females in the workplace isn’t that scary of an idea now, because times have changed and men are far more accepting of women in the field,” Kurtanich said.

The College engages career influencers such as guidance counselors, teachers, advisors and Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) members to participate in its annual Taste of Industry event and other outreach efforts such as the Industry Speaks series, which are designed to highlight the many career options available through industrial and technical pathways.

“Our goal is to show students and influencers what careers in technical education really look like. We discuss our industry-related programs, such as information technology, welding and machining, and give them an opportunity to participate in interactive simulations,” said Dr. Van Madray, dean of business, engineering technologies and public services at Rowan-Cabarrus. “Many are surprised at the careers available – these are not your grandfather’s jobs. They are high-tech, high-demand, high-paying positions.”

The WE IT program aims to increase completion rates among women in technical career programs. Women enrolled in these programs have the opportunity to be WE IT ambassadors, participate in the WE IT Navigators group, and attend open lab events.

“We hold a variety of events such as lunch-and-learn sessions and open houses so that female students can find out more about Rowan-Cabarrus and the jobs that are out there waiting for them,” said Rowan-Cabarrus welding instructor and WE IT coordinator Lori Safrit. “Women have such untapped potential when it comes to these careers, but we have to get the word out and erase the outdated perceptions that still exist.”

For more information on the WE IT program, contact Lori Safrit at or 704-216-7186.