The WGBH Educational Foundation and ACM (the Association for Computing Machinery) together with NCWIT (the National Center for Women & Information Technology) have invited hundreds of female students from all over Massachusetts on Monday, September 27, to celebrate the launch of Dot Diva, a new initiative to create a positive image of computing for high school girls. The event, at Microsoft New England Research & Development, includes an interactive fashion show, high tech music demos, an artbotics art installation, and local college Fair. The Dot Diva initiative, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), is intended to increase the number of college-bound girls who recognize the power and potential of computing and computer science to achieve fulfilling career opportunities.
“Our aim is to show these young women that computing is creative, collaborative, and changing the world,” said Julie Benyo, Director of Educational Outreach at WGBH. “Dot Diva enables us to offer young women a realistic view of computing that gives women the power to create and discover new things. It represents a two-year effort to create a “communications makeover” using extensive research and testing of messages that appeal to college-bound female students.”
“With the launch of Dot Diva, we are helping to deliver messages that illuminate the rich diversity of careers in the computing field – not just in technology companies but in the many industries that rely on computing technology,” said John White, ACM Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer. “We need to attract young women as part of a broad-based workforce that is equipped with skills which are fundamental to ensuring future U.S. economic competitiveness and prosperity.”
The Dot Diva project was developed in late 2007 to address double-digit declines in enrollments for graduate degrees in computer science. Despite some improvement in these enrollments since then, the number of computer science majors is still not meeting projected workforce needs, and women are particularly underrepresented in this field. While many factors contribute to the low interest in computer science, misperceptions and negative images play a significant role. Project leaders determined that underlying image issues stem from deeply rooted beliefs among young people, including a feeling that science is too hard, and over-exposure to media stereotypes of socially isolated programmers.
Relying on WGBH’s unique marketing and communications skills as well as its direct experience in transforming the image of engineering, project leaders produced a wide-ranging national outreach and communications plan to spread the word about the rewards and benefits of a life in computer science. The team conducted a national online survey of more than 1,400 college-bound high school students, ages 13-17, whose overall gender and ethnic representation mirrored that of all incoming U.S. freshman. The research revealed a significant gender gap in the attitudes of these targeted groups toward computer science, and the initiative shifted its focus to concentrate initially on girls as a special target audience.
The event, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., is at Microsoft New England Research & Development, One Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA. For more information on the Dot Diva launch, visit dotdiva.eventbrite.org.