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470 RI Area High School Girls Explore STEM Careers at GRRL Tech

More than 470 female high school students and 60 educators from 31 Rhode Island area high schools and career and tech centers were welcomed to the University of Rhode Island Kingston campus yesterday to attend Tech Collective’s 12th annual GRRL Tech Interactive Technology Expo.

Presented by Tech Collective, Rhode Island’s industry association for Information Technology and Bioscience, and hosted by the University of Rhode Island, GRRL Tech (Girls Reaching Remarkable Levels) is an interactive technology expo offering female high school students an engaging look into dynamic and rewarding STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) opportunities. Through industry mentoring and hands-on workshops, GRRL Tech aims to raise awareness of the STEM industries and career pathways.

Students attended their choice of two out of 24 workshop offerings designed and conducted by female industry professionals and URI faculty. Workshops explored a variety of STEM fields, ranging from bioscience, animal science, and oceanography to engineering, physics, and computer science. High school faculty attended one workshop and one educators’ session. Workshops were held throughout the URI campus, including in the new Pharmacy and Center for Biotechnology & Life Sciences buildings. More than 60 female industry professionals and university volunteers participated in workshops and helped facilitate the day.

The morning’s Keynote Speaker was Ruthe Farmer, Director of Strategic Initiatives for the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). A non-profit community of more than 350 organizations, NCWIT works to provide statistics, research, best practices, and a national voice for the increased participation of girls and women in IT and computing. From her role and personal experience, Farmer emphasized that the need for girls in technology goes beyond just filling jobs:

“We need the contribution of girls’ technical minds in order to build the most innovative solutions to solve the global challenges we face as a society,” Farmer said. “Currently, the contributions of women are largely missing from technology and innovation, yet women make up more than half of the populations and workforce, make the bulk of consumer decisions, and are the primary educators of our children. It makes no sense to continue building a technical world with a team that isn’t reflective of the people it serves. We can only dream of the innovative solutions we’ll see when women are equally represented as designers and creators of technology.”

The afternoon closed with the announcement of three GRRL Tech 2013 Scholarship winners:

  • Tinuola Agbelusi, a sophomore at North Providence High School
  • Madison Panell, a junior at Tiverton High School
  • Hannah Waters, a junior at Smithfield High School

Awarding the scholarships – valued at $4,000 per year for four years – were URI’s Dr. Laura Beauvais, Vice Provost of Faculty Affairs and Dr. Dean LiButti, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management. Scholarship winners were selected based on their essay submissions by the GRRL Tech Committee.

Girls in STEM

A recent NCWIT report, Girls in IT: The Facts (Nov. 2012) underscores that while women earn 57% of all undergraduate degrees, only 18% of computer and information science degrees are earned by women. The report also cites estimates by the U.S. Department of Labor that “by 2020 there will be more than 1.4 million computing-related job openings. At current rates, however, we can only fill about 30% of those jobs with U.S. computing bachelor's grads.”

The shortage of women in the workforce is felt across many of the STEM fields. Women fill almost half of all jobs in the United States, yet they fill less than 25% of the STEM jobs, according to Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation (Aug. 2011), a report by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration.

The low participation of women in the STEM fields has traditionally been attributed to less general awareness of the industry as compared to other occupations or career paths, a lack of female STEM role models, gender barriers and stereotypes, and sometimes workload demands as it relates to personal/family responsibilities. These are all areas GRRL Tech seeks to address.

“The technology industry needs the impact and innovation these young ladies can bring to the table,” said JoAnn Johnson, manager of youth and education programs for Tech Collective. “GRRL Tech aims to inspire that. Of course, not all of the students attending today will pursue STEM careers, but many will walk away with knowledge and maybe even a confidence they may not have had before. That is a success we are proud of as GRRL Tech has become an exciting tradition, not only for the Tech Collective staff, but also for our industry community and local high schools and career and tech centers.”

Sponsors: GRRL Tech is presented by Tech Collective, Rhode Island’s Industry Association for Information Technology and Bioscience. On behalf of all involved, we are grateful to GRRL Tech’s 2013 host, the University of Rhode Island, and its sponsors: IBM®, Atrion Networking Corporation, the Governor’s Workforce Board of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Job Development Fund, EpiVax, Inc., and Junior Achievement of Rhode Island.

About Tech Collective: Tech Collective is Rhode Island’s Information Technology and Bioscience Industry Association. Uniting industry, government and academic stakeholders, our mission is to inspire, engage, educate and employ a high-skill, high-wage Knowledge Economy in Rhode Island. Since its transition from the Rhode Island Technology Council (RITEC) in 2004, Tech Collective has received more than $8M in federal, state and private grant funding to foster industry collaboration, awareness and development through events and initiatives including: Tech10, GRRL Tech, Women in Technology, Bio-Ed, and STEM-based education and training programs for K-16 students as well as incumbent and transitioning workers. Get connected to Tech Collective at www.tech-collective.org, on Facebook (TechCollectiveRI), and on Twitter (@Tech_Collective).

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