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Women’s tech center celebrates first anniversary


By Neha Ramani



Women interested in more jobs, opportunities and money should consider a career in tech, the IU Center of Excellence for Women in Technology’s website says.

CEWiT — whose motto says “techie women have more” — celebrated its first birthday this past week with cupcakes and a talk by Google Technology Portfolio Manager Omoju Miller.

The anniversary marks a year of the center’s active promotion of women in technology but is also a reminder of how much work remains, CEWiT Director Maureen Biggers said.

“There aren’t many women in tech all over the country, so basically we’re in the same boat as everyone else,” Biggers said.

Only 22 percent of students in the School of Informatics, where Biggers serves as assistant dean of Diversity and Education, are women, she said.

Similar statistics in technology-related majors across the country, as well as the growing body of research on the benefits of gender diversity in technology, led to the formation about two years ago of a small IU team that includes Biggers, IU President Michael McRobbie and faculty members in business and computer science, Biggers said.

“We wanted a better way to promote and support women in relation to technology on campus,” Biggers said.

Since the virtual center launched last October, about 1,900 students, 310 faculty and 1,200 alumni have become involved through various alliances and groups within the center, Biggers said.

Biggers said the students involved with CEWiT come from diverse majors throughout the University, which she said means she must be aware of recruiting from all corners of campus.

“It’s important for me to distinguish between being a director of this and also assistant dean of diversity and education for informatics,” she said. “This isn’t an initiative out of my school.”

In addition to recruitment, the center’s first year included compiling a database of university-wide courses that concern technology, co-sponsoring a “Gender + Computing” track at a statewide IT conference, bringing in various speakers and surveying students to plan the center’s future.

Earlier this month, CEWiT sent five students to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Phoenix, CEWiT Program Manager Jenny Hertel said.

The students included were Christine Hsieh, an information systems Ph.D. student and research committee chair of CEWiT student alliance; Meghan McGrath, an information science master’s student and the CEWiT graduate assistant; Kelly McGuinn, a computer science and cognitive science major; Charese Smiley, a Ph.D. student studying computational linguistics; and computer science major Sara Zhang.

Another highlight of the year included the development of a pilot undergraduate research experience program for freshman and sophomore women at IU, which will take place this spring.

A January survey of about 6,000 students revealed significant interest in learning to code, social media, web design and internships in these fields, Biggers said.

As a result, two special interest groups — one for web development and one for social media — are being formed. A research poster competition is also being planned for the spring and a “Techie Women Have More ...” conference is being organized for March 6 and 7.

As for the future of the center, Biggers said she hopes CEWiT will have a physical place soon for meetings and for women to come in and have hands-on experiences with ?technology.

One student excited for these developments is Hannah Ripley, an undergraduate co-chair of the student alliance within ?CEWiT.

Ripley is a marketing and management major in the business school but said she has always been interested in technology and hopes to incorporate it into her career.

“Tech is a part of everything in today’s world,” she said.

Ripley’s position involves outreach, and she said the girls she talks to seem surprised that they can be involved with CEWiT and technology in general, even if they’re not in a tech-related major such as informatics.

“I think when women hear the word technology they are intimidated and think they won’t grasp the concepts, but that’s not true,” Ripley said.

Addressing these misconceptions is Biggers’ goal.

“People have a stereotype of what it means to be in technology, and it’s not very positive,” she said.

Biggers said the center can change that stereotype.

“That’s my dream,” she said.

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