DigiGirlz: High-Tech Camp for Girls Promotes Careers in Information Technology

REDMOND, Wash., Aug. 14, 2001 — Over 60 careers in high tech could begin this week.

From left to right, Shabnam Jalil, Jessica Berglund, consultant Mary Burton, Diana Voicu and Meron Alexander participate in the DigiGirlz High Tech Camp at Microsoft. Click on photo for high-resolution version.

Microsoft, working with the High Tech Learning Centers (HTLCs) of Washington state, is sponsoring an information technology camp for girls, called the DigiGirlz High Tech Camp, at the company’s Redmond campus this week. Over 60 girls in grades 9-12 from nine Washington school districts are participating in the camp, which begins today and ends Aug. 16. After check-in at 8:45 a.m. each day, a different keynote speaker — each a female Microsoft employee — will address the girls and teachers in attendance.

“I would like to get an idea of how much I really enjoy computer technology, possibly discovering new areas that I have never even thought of, so I can determine whether or not I would want to pursue this field as a profession,” says Robin Dembeck, a ninth-grader at Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie, Wash.

Which is precisely what the camp is about, says Carola Dopps, one of two internship consultants for the HTLCs. “We want to create some excitement for girls and let them know, ‘This is an option for you,'” Dopps says. She and her fellow consultant Mary Burton have placed several hundred students and teachers in high-tech, work-based learning experiences; job
internships and mentorships this past school year.

Throughout the week, the girls will participate in tours, discussions, seminars and other activities to get an idea of the opportunities in technology, and to make an informed decision about whether they would be interested in pursuing such a career. They will be exposed to a variety of career choices, with participants from such Microsoft groups as the Microsoft Home, Natural Language Group, Usability Labs, eBooks, Digital Media, Microsoft Studios, Microsoft Museum, Bungie, Xbox, Microsoft Research Labs, MSNBC, Windows XP, Mobile Tech Group, Windows XP Plus Pack!, Easy Living, NetGen, Internet Explorer, Car of the Future and Recruiting.

The HTLCs are a subset of the North East Vocational Area Cooperative (NEVAC), and includes the school districts Edmonds, Highline, Issaquah, Lake Washington, Mercer Island, Northshore, Riverview, Shoreline and Snoqualmie Valley, with over 20 high schools participating. They deliver state-of-the-art, information-technology education to high school students, leading to industry certification or accelerated placement in higher education.

“We want to create an environment where the education sector and the technology sector can move forward together,” Dopps explains. “Many times, these industries have vastly different approaches; they aren’t always on the same wavelength. We want to make it so that one understands the other, and can work cohesively.”

Each participating high school has a designated high-tech learning center on campus, equipped with computers, software, an Internet connection and qualified instructors. The resources available at some of these centers rival those found at four-year colleges, Dopps says. Students have a wide selection of high-tech interests to choose from, with classes offered in five primary disciplines: animation, multimedia, programming, Web-authoring and networking and tech support. Signing up for a technology class is easy, Dopps says. Once enrolled, the class becomes part of the students regular school curriculum.

“If a student at a school in Lake Washington wants to take a class on C++ programming and her high school doesn’t offer that particular course, then she can take the class in Issaquah, or at any other participating school that offers the desired class,” Dopps adds.

Over 10,000 students — boys and girls — have taken advantage of these technology classes over the past few years. The high-tech camp focuses on girls, Dopps says, because there is a general lack of interest from women to pursue careers in high tech.

“In general, at any IT event, there is a higher percentage of boys that attend than girls,” Dopps says. “And when you’re the only girl competing for attention among 20 boys, a lot of girls will drop out. This is a way for them to be around other girls who are interested in technology and to hear from women who made careers in technology, and this will help them understand what their opportunities are and get answers to questions that they might have — such as what steps they should take next.”

Microsoft has long promoted careers in technology for girls. The companys annual participation in Take Our Daughters to Work Day has been cited as one of the biggest and most effective corporate versions of the nationwide observance. At Microsoft, Take Our Daughters to Work Day is sponsored by Microsoft Hoppers, an employee-resource group named in honor of a pioneering U.S. computer scientist — Admiral Grace Hopper. Founded in 1990, Hoppers works to attract, develop and keep great women at Microsoft by promoting solutions for issues that affect women in business.

Take Our Daughters to Work Day and the DigiGirlz High Tech Camp are part of Microsoft’s ongoing commitment to promoting a diverse workforce in scientific and technical fields. In recent years, Microsoft has invested more than $80 million to help stimulate interest among ethnic minorities and women in scientific and technical fields. The company believes that diversity enriches its products and performance, as well as the communities in which people live and work.

Two Microsoft employees, Asta Glatzer and Melora Zaner-Godsey, have had personal experience working with and mentoring young women in computers, which fueled their involvement in DigiGirlz.

Girls consistently rate themselves lower than boys on computer ability and have less positive attitudes toward computers, according to a 1998 American Institutes for Research study, “Gender Gaps: Where Schools Still Fail Our Children. And women earn only 18 percent of doctorates awarded in computer science in the United States, according to a 1999 report in The New York Times.

“It has been brought to our attention many times that the dropout rate of women in the sciences has been shockingly high, and it is our hope that by being involved in this effort with Diversity and the High Tech Learning Centers, we can have an impact and turn this around,” says Glatzer, a Microsoft Research designer focusing on user interfaces and better user experiences in the Next Media Group.

Glatzer and Zaner-Godsey, a program manager for the NetGen Group — a new division that primarily focuses on the next generation of technology users — approached Stafford Mays, an outreach manager with Microsoft Diversity, which co-sponsors the camp with the HTLCs.

“Being able to bring it all together like this makes it seem that it was meant to be,” Mays says. “We think it’s really important for young girls to get exposure to technology and get them jazzed about our industry.”

“Our hope is that at least one of these girls will walk out of here inspired to pursue a career in technology,” Glatzer adds. “Maybe even right here at Microsoft.”

Says Dopps, “We approached Microsoft with our idea for an IT camp for girls because Microsoft has all the tools. They’re cutting-edge, and have a lot of different interests to offer: gaming, office programs, research, the Internet. No other company has all of that within one building. Microsoft is such a central point for technology and communication in the area. When Microsoft is involved, people get excited.”

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