Members of the Women in Computing group at Indiana University (WIC@IU) created a unique and interactive K-12 outreach program in 2004 that was inspired by Carnegie Mellon’s Women@SCS Roadshow. We called our program Just Be because our overarching theme is that people can just be themselves and be in computing, too. Just Be challenges common stereotypes about people in computing, describes interesting fields of computing, and provides age-specific information about necessary skills, class preparation, and job opportunities.
When we started visiting K-12 schools, our motto was, “If we can drive there in a day, we can come present.” However, the large number of invitations to visit middle and high schools throughout the Midwest soon consumed our limited operational budget and we realized that we could not do this alone. We began holding small workshops to teach people from regional colleges and universities how to start their own outreach programs to meet the demand in their communities. Still not satisfied, WIC@IU set a goal to diversify computing beyond women; we wanted to get the word out to all underrepresented groups. Unfortunately, the demographics of Indiana worked against us – over 85 percent of the population is white.
WIC@IU members, brainstorming together to concoct novel ways of connecting with underrepresented groups, came up with Bring IT On! We applied for and obtained funding from the Alliance for Graduate Education in the Professoriate and Cisco Systems, as well as other gracious donors, for a three-day workshop for undergraduate computer science students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
In October, our idea will be realized when twenty students convene at Indiana University for this first-of-its-kind workshop. Experienced Just Be presenters will teach and work with attendees to help them take the first steps in developing their own outreach presentations. In addition, attendees will have the opportunity to network with faculty and students in the Indiana University School of Informatics to forge relationships beyond diversity and into future research endeavors. We hope that the participating students return to their institutions energized to find other interested people at their schools to join them in forming a viable outreach program.
If we continue to disseminate the best practices – such as successful programs like Just Be – among colleges and universities, perhaps one day we will no longer need to diversify computing.
Dr. Katie A. Siek is an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Colorado at Boulder, a co-organizer for Bring IT On! and a founding member and past president of the WIC@IU.
Suzanne Menzel is a senior lecturer at Indiana University, Just Be faculty advisor, co-organizer for Bring IT On! and member of the executive committee for WIC@IU.