Highlight a Woman: Mary Lou Hines Fritts

By Brenda Bethman

My institution is rare in having a female CIO (nationally, only 23% of CIOs in higher education are female, according to Campus Technology) — her name is Mary Lou Hines Fritts and she was kind enough to agree to answer my questions for this month’s “highligt a woman in tech” post. I’ve been at UMKC for five years and have been impressed with Mary Lou’s leadership and the way she serves as a role model for other women who aspire to go into technology. She is, in fact, awesome — actually responding to a last-minute final question today despite the fact that UMKC’s network is having problems and she must be getting a ton of emails and questions (as we all know, few things make folks crankier than losing the interwebs). I am pleased to introduce our SAWTT readers to her:

Can you describe your background? Degrees, previous positions.

Ph.D., M.S., B.S. – Computer Science from Kansas State University; started at a community college in northern Wyoming initially.

Faculty member at UMKC for 12 years before moving to the Provost Office and then becoming the CIO/Vice Provost.  About 50% to 60% of my time is spent on CIO activities and the rest on academic affairs activities. Because our administrative computing is primarily handled at the System office, I have the opportunity to participate in academic affairs activities that I would not be able to otherwise.

What inspired you to work in technology? Was it your original plan when attending college?

I had done work-study at Northwest College (the community college I attended in Wyoming) in the computer center – back in the old days of punch cards, paper tape and soldering your own boards.  When I went back to school to finish my bachelor’s degree, I had two small children and was a single parent. I knew that the technology field would provide a good income for my family and it was something that I enjoyed. It was NOT my original plan when I went to college. My original plan was to be an archeologist.

What role do you feel women play in technology within higher education and in the corporate world?

The role for women in technology is tough. There are not a lot of women in the field and it is still not a woman-friendly field. However, the nature of the field has changed significantly in the past 10 years or so. It has moved to being a very integrated, comprehensive, complex system that blurs the lines between function and technology in ways we have not seen before. It requires people who can walk the line between the end-users and the technology implementers (programmers, etc.) and build these massive systems. These soft skill requirements make the field much more attractive to women because they can see a place to fit and to be part of teams, which was not the case 20 years ago.

Women bring a collaborative nature to what used to be a lone wolf field.  That is really important.

What advice would you give other women interested in working in technology?

Go for it! The field is great and it is not all about programming in a cube. The opportunities to blend computer science skills with interests/skills in another domain are huge. Get a solid math background not because you will use it extensively but because it gives you the foundation to understand systems. Collaborate all through your undergraduate career – it will help you immensely.

What do you like to do for fun when you’re not working?

Travel; hang with my grandchildren; read; watch soccer; dream about wild and crazy adventures.

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