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With unique scholarship program, Seattle company helps more UW women break into tech field

SEATTLE -- The tech industry is booming in Seattle, but among all the big companies in the Puget Sound area very few women are in engineering or programming positions in technology.

Officials of a Seattle-based company TUNE believe women shouldn’t be a minority in the industry. So they decided to make a more tangible impact in bridging the gender gap.

Instead of donating money for programs geared toward helping women enter tech fields, the company rents a house in the University District. Through a scholarship program, the company selects eight young women entering computer science fields at the University of Washington to live there for free and provides them with groceries, mentors and tech gadgets to be successful.

“Recently, I’ve gotten interested in physical computing and bread boards and playing around with that kind of thing,” said Christine Betts, a TUNE scholar who will be entering the TUNE house during the 2017-2018 school year.

“The dream is to be an A-I researcher, so an artificial intelligence researcher,” said Karishma Mandyam, who was accepted for a second year as a TUNE Scholar.

The young women are among eight TUNE scholars who have applied and been accepted into a yearlong scholarship program, providing them with opportunities to break into the tech field.

Founders of TUNE believe it’s a part of their corporate responsibility to give back.

“They really wanted to do something tangible and hands-on, something they could really see results from,” said Camille Sutherland, with TUNE.

Sutherland says on average women make up less than 15 percent of the tech industry.

“Still a long way to go, definitely. I think the goal would be to be 50/50,” said Sutherland.

“When we have a more diverse group of people creating technology products, we have a more diverse group of technology products,” said Mandyam.

Each of the women get their own bedrooms; there are common areas for them to study and hang out, outdoor space and access to industry professionals to guide through breaking into the field.

"It makes a huge difference to have free housing next year and groceries, but also to be surrounded by other women who are interested in this is such a huge piece to this, too,” said Betts, who added that, as an out-of-state student from Kansas, this opportunity makes even more of an impact on her and inspires her to encourage younger women at the middle school and high school levels to consider a career in tech as well.