Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Education Reform

On June 28, 2005, Sarah Revi Sterling (pictured, at right, with Rep. Lynn Woolsey), Senior Manager of Microsoft’s University Relations and Chairperson of National Center for Women & Information Technology’s (NCWIT) Workforce Alliance, testified before the House Subcommittee on Education Reform’s hearing on “How the Private Sector is Helping States and Communities Improve High Schools.” Ms. Sterling accepted the invitation from the Subcommittee’s Chairman Congressman Michael Castle (R-DE) and the Ranking Minority Member Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) to testify on what Microsoft and NCWIT are doing to increase participation of girls and women in information technology (IT) and computing. The hearing was the third in a series investigating efforts to improve the quality of high school education in the United States.
“The gender gap in information technology threatens the ability of the U.S. to compete globally,” said Ms. Sterling before a standing-room-only crowd and bipartisan group of legislators that included Tom Osborne (R-NE), Congressman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Congressman Robert Scott (D-VA), Congressman Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX), Congressman Ron Kind (D-WI), and Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH).
Stressing the need for women’s involvement in the technological development process, Ms. Sterling impressed on the House members the importance of working toward gender equity in IT and computing. “A diverse talent pool creates cutting edge and dynamic technology. Employing gender diversity in the innovation process yields different products and better ideas, contributing to stronger U.S. economic performance,” she said. “Girls and women can and must play an important role in fostering new IT innovations if the U.S. is to remain competitive.”
Ms. Sterling drew considerable attention from the Subcommittee’s members, who directed the majority of questions toward her and sought her perspective on the reforms needed to encourage high school girls to participate in IT and computing programs. Chairman Castle opened his questioning with a request for Ms. Sterling to explain exactly why high-school girls were being turned off by IT. Ms. Sterling noted that high schools must work to change the negative perceptions that high-school girls have of IT and computing and to promote the fact that IT is a profession that can and does touch people’s lives, and not an isolated profession detached from society and producing technology for its own sake.
Congresswoman Woolsey personally thanked Ms. Sterling for her work on what the Congresswoman described as an urgent problem. Later in the day, Ms. Sterling met with Congressman Ehlers, who commended her on her testimony. Earlier this year, Congressman Ehlers co-sponsored legislation that would forgive interest on student loans to individuals who major in math, science, or engineering and who agree to work or teach in those fields upon graduation.
Ms. Sterling closed her remarks before the Subcommittee with a powerful statement connecting girls’ participation in IT with the future competitiveness of the U.S.: “Working together, the public and private sectors can and must make swift and substantive changes in our educational and business institutions to promote a culture of innovation that is inclusive and diverse. America needs the talent of all of its citizens: our competitiveness, security, and ultimately the health of our democracy depend on it.”

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