I spent the morning at an NCWIT (National Center of Women & Information Technology) board meeting where I’ve been chairman for the last few years. NCWIT’s mission is to increase women’s participation in IT. We focus across the entire pipeline (K-12, higher ed, industry, academic, and entrepreneurial communities) and – in addition to having a number of our own programs – work hard to leverage the efforts of other organizations around the country. We’ve got a superb board of directors and executive advisory council and an incredible staff which I’m especially proud of. For a quick overview, take a look at the Fact Sheet and the FAQ.
In today’s board meeting we spent a lot of time talking about computer science among high school kids, especially girls. The stats are depressing and unambiguously point to a massive shortfall of computer scientists in the US in the next decade. Having spent some time discussing the current AP Computer Science curriculum with some people I consider experts, it’s clear that it sucks and probably hurts the cause of educating kids in computer science more than it helps. There is uniform agreement that AP Computer Science (and high school computer science in general) needs massive reform, but the time frame is painfully slow (2014 before the new AP Computer Science curriculum is deployed.)
All is not gloom and doom for high school kids. When I think about my experience with “computing” in high school, it involved an Apple II computer and a TRS-80, along with a bunch of BASIC programming. My 300 baud modem with acoustic coupler (eventually upgraded to 1200 baud) gave me access to BBS’s which I explored the nooks and crannies of endlessly. When I got to college, I learned the joy of Unix and DEC-20’s (did you know the DEC-20 was a 36-bit computer – go figure.) The experience today of “computing” is radically different and integrated into the “life flow” of most kids so that the leap to “computer science” from “computing” is not an unnatural one.
Two years ago the Bank of America (one of NCWIT’s investment partners) and NCWIT created the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing. The video about the award is awesomely inspiring and the award has served to begin creating a real community of young women engaged in computer science.
The award recognizes high-school level girls for their computing-related achievements and interests. All US high school young women (grades 9-12) are invited to apply. Awardees are selected for their demonstrated, outstanding aptitude and interest in information technology/computing; solid leadership ability; good academic history; and plans for post-secondary education.
Each qualified national awardee will receive $500 in cash, a laptop computer, provided by Bank of America, a trip to attend the Bank of America Technology Showcase and Awards Ceremony, March 27, 2010, held in Charlotte, North Carolina, and an engraved award for both the student and the student’s school.
As of this afternoon we’ve received 450 applications in the first week that applications were open. If you are the parent of a high school girl who is interested or involved in Computer Science, please spread the word. Applications are open until November 15th.