More than 175 young women participated in the fifth annual Women in Technology event at OSU Institute of Technology on Friday.
It was the largest group the event has hosted and those in attendance heard from Retired Maj. Gen. Rita Aragon, a female trailblazer in the armed forces in Oklahoma.
Not only was Aragon the first female commander of the Oklahoma Air National Guard, but she was the first female to command a state Air National Guard.
She’s also the first woman to serve as the Oklahoma Secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs.
Being a champion for women in the military wasn’t Aragon’s dream when she was growing up.
“I’m a country girl. I went to school to be a teacher,” she said, and that’s exactly what she did until she became a widow with two young girls to raise. “I couldn’t make ends meet. A friend suggested I join the National Guard.”
Aragon said when she joined in 1979 there were 1,000 men to every woman in the Guard and there were no female ranking officers above her.
“You’ve heard of the glass ceiling,” she said during her presentation. “In the military, that’s called the brass ceiling.”
Ina Agnew, vice president of student services, said Aragon’s message is timeless and she is a fantastic role model for all women.
Aragon said she was just doing what she needed, and wanted, to do.
“I loved the experience. It was a lot of fun,” she said, adding that through the Air National Guard she has visited every continent except Antarctica and visited Paris, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii, just to name a few.
Thirty years after joining, 20 percent of the military is now made up of women, Aragon said. The same is happening in other fields that were once dominated by men such as engineering or construction.
“It’s all about capability. What are you good at? Linguistics or science and technology, those aren’t male-only skills,” she said, and as technology advances, those fields become less about physical ability and more about critical thinking. “Women feel much more entitled today. If they want to do something, they should be able to pursue it.”
That’s the message behind the Women in Technology event, Agnew said. It’s a chance for women to find out more about the university’s programs that lead to careers in science, technology, engineering and math, industries that are searching for qualified female employees.
“The divisions at OSUIT have an opportunity to energize women about their technical programs and perhaps open a student’s mind to career paths she might never have considered,” she said. “I define success as having a room full of young ladies who have no idea what we do, educating them on the opportunities open to them, and perhaps providing them with a direction for their future.”