California Dreamin', Reflections on the NCWIT Workshop at UC Irvine Nov 5-7, 08

University of California

Holding the NCWIT Fall workshop just on the tail end of the presidential election made for a high energy event, and the focus on "Multiple Pathways to an IT Career" fits right in with the spirit of change in the air. The event kicked off Wednesday night with a presentation of the Athena Factor: Reversing the Brain Drain in Science & Technology by co-author Lisa J. Servon formerly with the Center for Work Life Policy. Ms. Servon presented some dismaying statistics about the current state of women in STEM, but followed that up with some suggestions for approaching the problem.

The big workshop day at UC Irvine kicked off with an inspirational presentation by Dr. Nicki Washington, who shared her experiences as a graduate CS student coming from Johnson C. Smith University, a historically black university. The morning panels looked at Innovative Pathway Programs, such as accessing talent from returning military personnel and military spouses, community colleges, and tribal colleges. The second set of panels focused on Research on Alternate Pathways, including The National Academy foundation's work on a career-focused approach to bringing underrepresented groups to IT, RAND Corporation's research on military spouses in IT careers, and work out of RPI on using contextual computing to attract underrepresented groups to computing. The workshops wrapped with a spirited discussion with Dr. Belle Wheelan, President of the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools. She called on attendees (it was a bit like being caught dozing off in class) to share impressions, learnings and next steps resulting from the meeting.

After an intense afternoon of NCWIT Alliance meetings (lots of work being done there -- look for an update in your inbox soon), the group reconvened for a reception at the UC Irvine University Club. The highlight of the reception (besides all the speeches) was meeting eleven of the recipients of the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing. Award-winners, still in high school, were invited for a day on campus sampling college life at UC Irvine's Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences, and were honored again at the evening reception. The girls were very excited about receiving the award, and one parent commented that the award was 'life changing' for his daughter.