Some Steps Forward

So, while most women in the digital games industry (and more widely in science and technology fields) agree that women and girls need to be exposed to STEM early, encouraged as much as boys, and taught to show confidence in their abilities, there need to be some concrete programs that put all of this talk into action. In the last few weeks we’ve been hearing about some new initiatives that are designed to do just that. Here are a few:

The first comes to my attention through an interview posted on ZDNet with Susan Buck, Lecturer at U Penn in website design and development and developer at Photojojo.net. In the interview Buck discusses how she fought her way into the field through self-instruction and the realization that she was not being given the same tools as the young men around her. Most recently, Buck co-founded the organization Web Start Women, an organization dedicated to bringing women into web design, and

cultivating open, supportive, intimidation-free environments where women and girls of all ages can learn, build and code together.

Another project is called AdaCamp. This is another program created to bring women together to increase their participation in open technology and culture fields. AdaCamp 2012 is being held in DC and is a part of a larger project called Ada Initiative, and is

is a 150-200 person unconference in Washington, D.C. on July 10-11, 2012. It is co-located with Wikimania 2012, the global conference for Wikipedia and related Wiki projects. Wikimania brings influential and talented people from around the world who are interested in improving the participation of women in Wikipedia and other open data projects, as shown by Wikimania’s selection of Ada Initiative co-founder Mary Gardiner as a keynote speaker.

Finally, NSERC (National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) has created a webpage dedicated to Women in Science and Engineering in order to provide information about policies aimed at increasing the participation of women in these fields.

How early should children start using computers?

It’s no surprise. They should start as early as possible. MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten Group (the maker of Scratch) has partnered with DevTech Research Group to make Scratch Jr., a program aimed to teach kids from preschool to Grade 2 how to create their own stories and games using digital media.

Mitch Resnick, director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group, spearheaded the creation of Scratch. Having worked with a network of afterschool programs using digital media, Resnick was struck by the lack of software that enabled kids to go beyond playing with other people’s media. There was nothing that encouraged them to make their own interactive stories and games.

As there is more discussion about what 21st century literacy is, Resnick equates teaching basic programming to teaching how to write. He adds:

What’s most important to me is that young children start to develop a relationship with the computer where they feel they’re in control,” Resnick said. “We don’t want kids to see the computer as something where they just browse and click. We want them to see digital technologies as something they can use to express themselves.

Read more about the project here at MindShift.

Another voice promoting STEM to students, especially women

This article from the Boston Globe features an interview with Jennifer Chayes, the managing director of Microsoft Research New England.

Recently Chayes spoke at a conference aimed at strengthening STEM in Massachusetts. Chayes said that computer scientists create better work when they collaborate with individuals from different fields, and so part of their strategy is to reach out to people in “nontechnical occupations.” She also said that in order to better promote STEM to young people, it needs to be presented to students as a creative field, one that is welcoming to women:

Young women and minorities, particularly women, often turn away from science and technology. They have this image of some nerdy guy sitting at a computer, programming. I have never just sat at a computer and programmed. My work is always with other people. I love the human interaction. I love when another person’s thinking sparks something in my mind, and my thinking sparks something in others.

Chayes went on to discuss how she talks to young women about STEM:

I try to paint this picture for them. They could be creative in so many different ways if they enter the world of science and technology. Ideally, I try to reach girls who are 12 or 13, because we know that’s when we lose them. By the time they are 20, a lot of them have already made life choices that preclude this.

 

Study: Minorities, women often discouraged from entering engineering, science fields

From The State Journal, “West Virginia’s Only Business Newspaper” comes another article about women (and minorities) who study STEM.

Cathy Bonnstetter wrote:

An online poll of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, department chairs at America’s top 200 research institutions […] showed that 40 percent of minority and female chemists and engineers polled said they were discouraged from studying STEM subjects.

Although they agreed that their institutions did very little to recruit and retain women and minorities in their programs, the mostly white, middle-aged, Caucasian male STEM chairs said:

the number of women in their STEM courses has stayed steady. They also said they believed women came to college most prepared to tackle STEM subjects, while minorities came the least prepared.

The reason the minorities were less prepared?

“The chairs felt the underrepresented minority students faced a lack of limited quality science in elementary and secondary school, as well as a lack of role models,” Lucore said.

WOW.

Read the full article.

NCWIT Trying To Increase Number of Women in Technology Field

This article from the Technology section of Forbes describes the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) program “Pacesetters” that has partnered with educational institutions and businesses to recruit and retain women in the field of IT.Apparently it is working. Author Tim Sohn wrote:

“Higher education institutions and businesses are already reporting results: The University of Virginia is on its way to boosting its percentage of women computing graduates by 10 percent to 25 percent. Google now has twice as many female engineer interns. University of California, Santa Cruz has increased the number of female majors in computer science by 40 percent. In addition, IBM is encouraging more women to participate in professional development programs.”