Michigan Tech Chosen to Help Bolster Numbers of Women in Computing

Pacesetters is working to increase numbers of women in computing fields.
Pacesetters is working to increase numbers of women in computing fields.

Michigan Tech has been selected to participate in the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) Pacesetters program, designed to increase women's participation in the computing disciplines in a measurable way. Twenty universities and 14 companies were chosen.

NCWIT Pacesetters is a 2-year program in which senior leaders from companies and universities publicly commit to increasing the number of women in the US computing and technology workforce.  The program is sponsored by the National Science Foundation  (NSF), Google and Qualcomm.  

It comes at a time when Michigan Tech is working on many fronts to achieve the University’s goal of increasing female enrollment.  “The Pacesetter designation will help us focus our efforts on women in the computing fields and will keep us on track and provide a network of support for the development of creative recruitment initiatives,” said Allison Carter, director of admissions. 

Pacesetters at Michigan Tech is a collaborative effort of the College of Sciences & Arts, the Department of Computer Science, and the Admissions and Advancement Offices. The Center for Pre-college Outreach Center, Career Services and the Office of Institutional Diversity helped prepare the University's application.  The University is planning to partner with young alumnae who are willing to share their experiences with prospective students to provide examples of opportunities the University offers for undergraduate research, co-ops and internships, networking and future careers, Carter said. Currently, plans are focused on communicating with high school sophomores and juniors, as well as accepted female students enrolling next fall.

According to the NCWIT, women currently hold only 25 percent of all computing-related jobs in the US. They earn just 18 percent of computing and information sciences degrees granted by US universities. What's more, 56 percent of women in computing leave their jobs at the mid-career level, when their loss is most costly to their companies.  Research also has found that women's increased participation in computing jobs is tied to higher profits, better return on investment and more innovation, the organization said.  

"For many years I have been interested in finding ways to encourage young women to pursue computing as a career, said Linda Ott, professor and former chair of computer science and head of the Pacesetters program at Michigan Tech. " There are so many exciting career opportunities for those in computing. Our efforts to increase the number of women majoring in computer science have resulted in slow changes, and it seemed like such a daunting task to have a major impact and really get more women into our program."  

Then Ott heard about the successes--and the excitement generated by--the pilot group of Pacesetters who launched their drive to increase the number of women in computing fields in 2011.  When Michigan Tech had the opportunity to apply, Ott jumped on it.  "I see this as a chance to focus resources on campus to aid in recruiting women into computing," she said.  "More importantly, we will be working with a cohort of universities and industries committed to the same goal. This will give us access to a large pool of resources and ideas for making a real change.  We will be working collaboratively with a powerful group of institutions to actually increase the number of women in computing, not just competing for the few who are already aware of their interest in the field.

"It's important for our students and our computer science department to have a more diverse student population," Ott went on to say. "It's even more important to our country. If one looks at the job projections put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half of the projected growth in jobs in all the STEM fields are going to be in computing.  It's unlikely that there will be enough computing professionals if we don't broaden the pool of those interested in pursuing computing careers."  

The new group of NCWIT Pacesetters kicks off its 2-year program with a meeting at the University of California at Santa Cruz on Feb. 25, 2013. Ott and Bruce Seely, dean of the College of Sciences & Arts, will attend that meeting.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.