I’ve always wanted to see the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, so when Sam Kamin asked me to give a keynote at their Mom’s Day event on April 7, I eagerly agreed to go. I was not disappointed: the countryside is beautiful and the drive from Chicago was peaceful (except for the segment on I-294 outside Chicago – construction has messed up this highway in unbelievable ways that are totally offensive to the engineer in me.) The Siebel Center, which houses the Department of Computer Science at the University of Illinois U-C, is one spectacular building; NCWIT is planning to have some upcoming meetings in the Siebel Center and it was great to see it.
I arrived on campus a few minutes before the keynote and the reception was in full swing. There was great jazz music and about 100 folks milling about. Sam wanted me to give a talk about the issues concerning girls and women’s participation in information technology. I brought up implementation issues — the need for a sustained community of organizations to work towards greater participation of women in the long haul, the need for effective practices proven by evaluation, and the need for metrics and goals. And I talked about the systemic issues underlying women’s lack of involvement — the geeky image of IT, the lack of relevant and wide-spread IT education in K-12, etc.
The dialogue during the evening was rich and some familiar themes surfaced that we’ve heard before: the negative image of IT is a huge issue, the lack of articulation agreements between community colleges and universities impedes women and under-represented groups from pursuing their 4 year IT degrees, guidance counselors are not recommending that students pursue IT degrees due to all the negative press about offshoring of IT jobs…and on and on.
Several high-school girls were in attendance, and I wanted to balance the “problem” discussion with a conversation about the joy of working in IT – the creative side of invention – and the fun of it all! My night was made when two young women approached me after the talk, with their mothers in tow, and said they were thinking about pursuing a computer science degree. Now, that’s worth the trip!
Lucy Sanders is the CEO and co-Founder of the National Center for Women & Information Technology. While the shoes pictured are not Lucy’s, she does own some sassy red boots she wears while traveling the country speaking about the need for more female participation in the world of IT.