NCWIT: Poster Child

The moral: Great minds are justifiably the most difficult to impress; but once an impression is made, a world of opportunity opens up.
The lesson: February 10 brought NCWIT staffers to a breakfast for National Science Board members visiting the University of Colorado, Boulder. CU provides NCWIT with a home for both our headquarters and our National Science Foundation grant money, so we were delighted to have the opportunity to discuss innovation and competitiveness in the U.S. with federally appointed scientists of many different disciplines. After all, these folks are policy advisors to the President of the United States.
The meet-and-greet took place at the club level of CU’s recently remodeled Folsom Field. The windows of the luxury box face due west, and provided a perfect view of the freshly snow-kissed Flatirons.
The morning centered on a “poster session” through which faculty and students presented research projects funded by NSF, which the board members advise.
NCWIT’s poster (see above photo) was indiscriminately the best-looking in the room, fashioned with the same clean lines and bold simplicity of our website. With our highly effective statistics sheet flanked by our mission and strategy to increase the number of women in the IT field, the poster served its conversation-starting purpose, even at its birthplace – the graphics center at Kinko’s.
As board members mulled around the room, it became clear that the best way to express both our purpose and our gratitude for NSF’s continued funding was to discuss the crucial research NCWIT’s social scientists are conducting.
The statistics sheet gave pause to board member after board member who proceeded to take us to task. They asked tough questions, such as: why?
Why aren’t women participating in the IT field? Our response was that we’re still finding out. While a decrease in the IT workforce may be the result of negative and often incorrect reports about outsourcing and the availability of IT jobs, we believe that the “geeky” image associated with computer innovation turns women away, too.
We met the common rebuttal, “But computer scientists ARE geeks.”
The most effective response to this mindset, which also happens to be the most fun, is to open ourselves up to some friendly abuse by asking, “Am I a geek?”
By the end of the morning we had gained the respect of a handful of some of the greatest minds in the country, none of whom disputed that a lack of female participation in IT careers is a huge problem for this country’s future workforce and competitive edge.
We look forward to continued relations with NSF and NSB members, without whom NCWIT’s existence and momentum would not be possible.

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