Report from Washington, D.C. – Winter 2009

Revolutionizing the Face of Technology
NCWIT: Report from Washington, D.C. – Winter 2009

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IT, Diversity, and the Obama Administration

We congratulate President Obama and his historic path to the presidency! Already the president has positioned himself as a technology user and supporter, and we hope he will make technology education and innovation an overarching theme of his tenure in office. President Obama’s platform calls for initiatives such as increased R&D funding; STEM education geared towards “at-risk” students; a Teaching Service Scholarship to recruit math, science, and technology graduates into teaching at public schools; and an increase in research grants and graduate fellowships. In addition, his economic recovery plan allocates spending on increased broadband infrastructure, improved technology in schools, and incentives for green technology industries as a new source of jobs and innovation.

A recent article in The New York Times speculated that under the current administration, The U.S. might finally make strides in recruiting and retaining more women and underrepresented groups in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Mr. Obama, who spoke at NCWIT’s May 2006 town hall on Innovation and the Role of Diversity (catch the video here), has long supported increasing the participation of underrepresented groups as a way to strengthen innovation and the IT workforce. Mr. Obama’s support for technology could have quite an active impact on innovation, education, economic competitiveness and diversity in IT; and we anticipate a passive impact as well, as the world measures the influential power of a tech-savvy administration.

   

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IT Business Roundtable

On June 19, 2008, NCWIT co-sponsored the Information Technology Business Advocacy Roundtable, bringing together over 50 representatives from government, business, and advocacy groups to discuss the serious challenges confronting the U.S. IT workforce. The roundtable assembled participants from both the public and private sectors to advance ideas for developing a sustainable IT workforce in America — such as improving K-12 STEM education by focusing on computer science, and forming public-private partnerships crucial to IT innovation and competitiveness. The Computing Research Association (CRA) and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) co-sponsored the event, and Kent Hughes, Director of Science, Technology, America, and the Global Economy at The Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., hosted and moderated. Corporate participants included Microsoft, Avaya, Cisco, IBM, Avon, Intel, Texas Instruments, Bechtel, Halliburton, and Symantec, as well as members of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Postal Service, and non-profits such as the Alliance for Science and Technology Research in America (ASTRA), Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (ABI).

The Roundtable achieved consensus recognition on several issues. First, reform to advance education in computer science must be concentrated at the state and local government level, which traditionally shapes American curriculum. Second, reformed curriculum should be attractive to both boys and girls, and is best designed when computer science is well-integrated with other disciplines. Third, the group agreed to seek the support of other groups working nationally, but at the state level, when addressing issues of computing education. And fourth, the participants agreed on the importance of working with federal agencies to implement any competitiveness legislation, such as teacher training, and the necessity of paying attention to the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. A full report on the roundtable’s findings is available at our website.

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National Academies Study on U.S. IT Ecosystem

NCWIT CEO and Co-founder Lucy Sanders was one of 12 members from the corporate and academic IT community to serve on The Committee on Assessing the Impacts of Changes in the Information Technology Research and Development Ecosystem, established by the National Academy of Science’s Computer Science & Telecommunications Board. Over a three-year period this committee was charged with looking at the growth of U.S. IT infrastructure, how it has affected the U.S. economy, and how to maintain that growth. The committee’s report, “Assessing the Impacts of Changes in the Information Technology R&D Ecosystem: Retaining Leadership in an Increasingly Global Environment,” states that much government support is needed if the U.S. is going to maintain its position in IT leadership. Among the recommendations the committee made are investing in education and outreach to grow the IT talent pool; increasing the number of visas extended to foreign graduates of U.S. advanced-degree IT programs; increasing government funding for IT research and development; and easing restrictions that could hamper innovation and the development of small IT businesses.

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Military Spouse Re-Entry Programs

Flexible work arrangements and career paths, along with re-entry training and support, can attract and retain mid-career female employees. In November 2007, the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Labor launched the Military Spouse Career Advancement Initiative. This three-year initiative enables military spouses from eight states with large military populations to develop the necessary skills to further their careers. Through work with Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy (MC&FP), Leslye A. Arsht, NCWIT was instrumental in adding information technology as one of the designated areas of study for military spouses.

Military spouses are a large and often overlooked population that could be well-served by IT training, and could bring more diversity to IT. The Women in Technology (WIT) Military Spouse Certificate Program is one innovative program that attempts to meet this need.

As described in NCWIT’s Promising Practice, Military Spouse Reentry Programs: Helping Mid-Career Women Return to Work in IT, WIT is supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor and by Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). These funds provide scholarships and IT training for female spouses of military personnel in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Military spouses enroll as a cohort in a unique program at Pikes Peak Community College where they can earn certificates in five modules: IT Fundamentals, Software Fundamentals, Network Essentials, IT Security Essentials, and IT Support Essentials. Each module qualifies them for a higher-level IT job. The program also includes several crucial measures to ease the transition to the workplace. Personnel from Volt Technical Services, a technology-recruiting firm, offer information about IT employment opportunities, provide mentoring, and help find entry-level positions. The Colorado Coalition for Gender and Information Technology (ccGIT), a research and programmatic hub of NCWIT, helped to pilot this program.

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NCWIT Advocacy

Since its inception, NCWIT has recognized that increasing women’s participation in information technology requires a strong presence among legislators and policy-makers in Washington, D.C. NCWIT works with several organizations including the ACM and CRA, as well as The Stern Group, an international advisory firm run by The Honorable Paula Stern, to establish a platform in D.C. circles and keep people apprised of the issues surrounding diversity and innovation. Recently, we’ve also worked with members of the Department of Defense, the U.S. Congress, and others to develop specific initiatives and programs that support U.S. competitiveness through a strengthened IT workforce and increased innovation. You can read more about our D.C. work in our last Report from D.C. here.

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NCWIT is the National Center for Women & Information Technology, a coalition of over 170 prominent corporations, academic institutions, government agencies, and nonprofits working to improve U.S. innovation, competitiveness, and workforce sustainability by increasing women’s participation in IT. NCWIT’s work spans K-12 and higher education through industry and academic careers. Find out more at www.ncwit.org.

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