According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 57 percent of college undergraduates are women, yet only 18 percent progress into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) as a career. Despite this national need for a female presence in computing and technology workplaces, southern Utah is showing initiative on this front.
The National Center for Women in Information Technology (NCWIT) Award for Aspirations in Computing honors high school girls who are active and interested in computing and technology. This southern Utah award ceremony will be held on April 16, 2016 at Southern Utah University.
As the only initiative to highlight young women in computing and information technology on a national level, great strides have been taken in the program’s development in southern Utah.
Dr. Shalini Kesar, SUU associate professor of information systems, CSIS, has been involved with the organization since the beginning, spearheading its development across 10 counties and doubling the number of participants each year for the past three years.
“This program gives these girls an aptitude in computing and aspirations to continue in this field,” says Kesar. “Our goal is to build awareness about the technology field and to give participants confidence in the skills they acquire.”
With the support of parents and educators, 142 girls competed from high schools throughout southern Utah. This multi-tiered competition is a platform for aspiring young women to showcase unique software coding, web design and information technology skills.
The southern Utah affiliate of the NCWIT is a leading entity in the competition, setting a high standard for rural counties and empowering the young women who participate, especially with several southern Utah students awarded at the national level.
Accessibility is one of the big barriers the southern Utah region faces, according to Kesar. To overcome this obstacle students here receive specialized attention and individual mentoring through high school and middle school teachers to help encourage and improve the skills they now possess. Kesar stresses the importance of the teachers, saying that they are the pillar to this program. “They help motivate their students and build a team of strong girls.”
NCWIT Aspirations in Computing (AiC) provides a long-term community for female technologists, from K-12 through higher education and beyond, encouraging persistence in computing through continuous engagement and ongoing encouragement at each pivotal stage of their educational and professional development.
The Southern Utah Aspirations awards ceremony will be held Saturday, April 16, in the Great Hall of the Hunter Conference Center 11:30 am to 2:00 pm.
Kesar, along with committee members Jessica Burr and Laurie Harris, work with undergraduate students and volunteer their time at the event and in outreach activities. These efforts are aimed at motivating and enhancing awareness about opportunities for young women in computing as an education and a career.