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Conference to Consider Strategies for Getting More Women and Minorities into IT Workforce

Strategies that can help improve the recruitment and retention of women and minorities in the information technology (IT) workforce will be considered at a national conference in Virginia Beach Oct. 9-11 sponsored by Norfolk State and Old Dominion universities and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The Conference on Broadening Participation in Computing Disciplines grows out of five years of research projects conducted by the two universities with the support of grants from the NSF.

Donald Davis, the ODU professor of psychology who leads an NSF-funded research project aimed at the retention of women and minorities in university computer science courses, said, "This conference springs from our research, but it goes much beyond it. We have invited some of the top researchers in the nation to discuss practices that have been shown to be effective in fostering retention of women and minorities in IT. This is an enormous challenge for our nation, as IT comprises about 7 percent of the U.S. economy. Yet there is a growing shortage of IT workers, especially among women and minorities."

NSU and ODU researchers have homed in on numerous factors that they believe account for problems women and many minorities have in IT classrooms and workplaces.

Davis noted that girls grow up feeling excluded in general from IT. For example, computer games today still reflect male adolescent and young man fantasies about competition, sexuality and violence, he said. "Research shows that women enjoy computer games as much as men, but they like different types of games. Companies that ignore this fact miss a large segment of the market and reduce their profitability as a result."

Minorities that are underrepresented in IT jobs often complain about negative workplace experiences and tokenism, the researchers have found. Both women and male minorities report that computer science courses are geared to the learning styles and career aspirations of white males.

Conference speakers will include Jan Cuny, director of the Broadening Participation in Computer Science Program at NSF; Nancy Fae King of Microsoft Corp.; Lecia Barker from the University of Texas, Austin, and the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT); Joanne McGrath Cohoon of the University of Virginia and NCWIT; Jane Margolis of UCLA; Susan Rodger of Duke University; Norman Jacobson of University of California at Irvine; Aurelia Williams of Norfolk State University; and Wanda Smith of Virginia Tech.

Session topics will be "Multi-Level Retention Approaches," "Realistic Career Previews and Mentoring," "Fostering Diversity and Creating an Inclusive Classroom Climate," "Pair Programming and Collaborative Learning," "Creating and Managing Change" and another on sources of funding for programs that address underrepresentation in IT.

Davis said high school teachers of computer science and others interested in the IT workforce will be welcomed as guests at any of the sessions. More information about the program and registration information can be found at http://sst.nsu.edu/conference/BPCS.

Presenters at the conference who are from ODU include Provost Carol Simpson, who has been a successful researcher in the male-dominated field of geology; Chris Platsoucas, dean of the College of Sciences, who has recently implemented a program in the College of Sciences to increase retention in mathematics; Janis Sanchez-Hucles, chair of the Department of Psychology; Debra Major, professor of psychology; Janet Brunnelle, assistant chair and senior lecturer in the Department of Computer Science; and Davis.

This article was posted on: September 29, 2008

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Old Dominion University is an equal opportunity, affirmative action institution.