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Powerful Pre-College and Pre-Professional Supports: CWIT's Bookend Approach to Inclusive Excellence in Undergraduate Tech Education

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2021 CoNECD


Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day

Publication Date

January 24, 2021

Start Date

January 24, 2021

End Date

January 28, 2021

Conference Session

CoNECD Session : Day 4 Slot 1 Technical Session 3

Tagged Topics

Diversity and CoNECD Paper Submissions

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Danyelle Tauryce Ireland University of Maryland, Baltimore County

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Danyelle Ireland is the associate director of the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) and research assistant professor in the Engineering and Computing Education Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). Dr. Ireland’s research centers on the intersectional nature of social, academic, and occupational identities among underrepresented students in computing and engineering majors, and factors impacting their motivation and persistence in STEM fields. Dr. Ireland holds a B.A. in African American studies and family studies from the University of Maryland, College Park and a Ph.D. in educational psychology from Howard University.

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Cindy Greenwood University of Maryland, Baltimore County

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Cindy Greenwood is an Assistant Director of the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). In CWIT, Cindy manages the Cyber Scholars Program, which focuses on increasing the participation and success of women and other underrepresented students in computing majors with an interest in the field of cybersecurity. She also manages some of the Center's K-12 outreach programs to encourage girls to pursue their interests in computing and engineering and some of the pre-professional programs to help students prepare for their careers. Her previous experience includes work in student leadership development, campus programming, student organization management, and alumni relations. Greenwood holds a master's degree in Higher Education Administration from Washington State University, a B.A. in Advertising/Public Relations from Grand Valley State University, and is currently pursuing a graduate certificate in Community Leadership at UMBC.

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Erica L D'Eramo University of Maryland, Baltimore County

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Erica D’Eramo is the Assistant Director of the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). With a focus on professional development, programming, retention and inclusion in higher education, Erica’s role in CWIT includes planning the CWIT Scholars Program, speaker series, Living Learning Community, First Year Experience course, Allies in CWIT practicum, Sophomore Leadership Practicum, and recruitment for both the Scholars and Affiliates programs. D’Eramo holds a B.A. in Business from Franklin & Marshall College and a M.A. in High Education Administration from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

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Katherine Bell O'Keefe

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KEY WORDS: Gender, Undergraduate, Engineering, Information Technology

INTRODUCTION The Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) has a 21 year record of working to enable success for all women and other underrepresented groups in technology fields. CWIT supports students with a nurturing and challenging community, transformative leadership experiences, and professional development opportunities. Our goal is to prepare and empower our students to be change agents in creating technology workplaces that are diverse, equitable, and inclusive. In this presentation, we will highlight successful programs CWIT has used to enhance diversity and inclusion of underrepresented groups in the engineering and computing professions. These programs are designed to support the academic, leadership and professional development of undergraduate students and fall on two ends of a spectrum of support: pre-college programs and pre-professional programs. We will engage CoNECD attendees by sharing how these practices were motivated, developed, and implemented, as well as how we assess our impact and tips for transferring these practices to other settings.


Purpose and Motivation Our pre-college programs are designed to encourage girls to pursue interests in computing and engineering fields; introduce them to other high school girls and college women who share their interests; show them glimpses of what it would be like to be a computing or engineering major at UMBC; and ultimately recruit them to enroll in a program at CWIT once they are admitted to UMBC.

Scope and Target Population The pre-college programs target high school junior and senior girls, mostly from the regional schools, but each year we tend to have a few from out of state. All programs have at least one session for parents/guardians/family members.

Program Features We host four pre-college programs: --Two overnight programs (25 to 30 attendees each) that include meals at no cost to participants and the experience of spending the night in a residence hall. High school girls participate in team-based engineering and computing activities and design competitions judged by students, faculty and staff. --One day program features a “conference” style experience for attendees with an option for campus tours and a Meet & Greet on the CWIT Living Learning Community. --One Escape Room event features a game and storyline that are engaging for the participants; in order to escape the “room”, high school participants learn information about computing and engineering fields as well as UMBC and CWIT and proceed to the next puzzles. All four pre-college programs are co-planned and co-facilitated with planning committees of current students (with staff support). There are also opportunities for parents/guardians/family members to participate in at least one session.

Impact Annually, after each program is conducted, we assess our impact via post-event evaluation surveys. Many students who attend these events end up attending UMBC and getting involved with CWIT as Scholars or Affiliates (and sometimes becoming members of the planning committees to help plan and facilitate the programs for future girls). We have also seen an increase in the gender and racial diversity of the incoming students affiliated with CWIT.

Lessons Learned We have experienced both logistical and technical challenges with our overnight programs. There have been issues with the materials and software we use for the computing and engineering design competitions. Sometimes students are picked up early or we have to help students from far away states navigate flight changes and get to the airport in bad weather. We have mainly aimed to accept students who are within driving distance for that program since then. We consistently get feedback that students want the programs to be as hands-on and active as possible, so we have tweaked sessions to try to meet that request. Our day program has had challenges with yield numbers; one year, over 200 signed up for the event but only 75-100 actually attended.

Implications These events matter because they not only give high school girls the opportunity to learn what it would be like to be an engineering or computing major in college, they also give them the opportunity to connect with other girls with the same interests as them. On the participant surveys, many attendees mention that if they have taken computing/engineering classes in high school, they are typically either the only girl or one of the few girls in those classes. These opportunities allow them to share their experiences, meet successful women in the field (alumni/faculty panels), and bond with other girls with the same interests. Additionally, they are also great recruitment tools for UMBC and CWIT.


Purpose and Motivation Our pre-professional programs are designed to connect students with professionals in their fields (build their networks), give students a place to practice their networking skills, and help students to see themselves as future computing and engineering professionals.

Scope and Target Population The pre-professional programs are limited to students currently enrolled at UMBC and affiliated with CWIT. We may have up to 110-120 students and 30-40 professionals for the larger pre-professional events (Fall: professionals = almost all industry folks; Spring: mix of industry and faculty/staff); many industry attendees are also alumni. In our smaller pre-professional courses there are 20-30 students per semester and ~10-13 industry speakers per semester.

Program Features We host two large scale one-day events (one in Fall and one in Spring), and two semester-long practicum courses: --The Fall event offers a unique opportunity for students to not only practice their networking skills, but also receive feedback from professionals in their fields of interest about what they do well and how they could improve. This event is set up as small group speed networking, with approximately two industry professionals and four students at each table. There are three rounds of 20 minutes and during each round, the group spends about 10-15 minutes networking and for the last 5-10 minutes, the professionals share feedback and tips with the students. --The Spring event is planned and facilitated by a student planning committee with staff support. This event consists of open networking for about 30 minutes, followed by a keynote speaker who is a successful woman in computing or engineering, and then structured discussions at each table (seats are assigned so that each table is a mix of students, faculty/staff, and industry professionals/alumni). We were also able to hold a successful virtual version of this event in Spring 2020 when campuses were closed due to COVID-19. --Our two semester-long practicum courses provide a smaller group of students an opportunity to participate in ongoing discussions about discipline-specific topics of interest and career planning topics in a more intimate setting with staff and industry professionals.

Impact Annually, after each program or course is conducted, we assess our impact via event/course evaluation surveys. We ask for feedback from both student attendees as well as professionals who volunteer to help improve the usefulness and content of the program as well as address any logistical concerns for future implementation. One key indicator of success has been the amount of student attendees who report that these events led directly to them attaining an internship or job placement. Additionally, alumni of our programs return and speak on panels sharing anecdotes about how the knowledge they gained in our pre-professional programs helped them to navigate their early career experiences. Lessons Learned At the Fall event we find that students want to be seated at tables with professionals whose careers exactly match the students’ interests, however that is not always possible, so we have had to find ways to help students understand how they can benefit from networking with people in related, but different, fields from their own. We have also learned that it is best to provide some suggested talking points on the tables at this event to help students who are more shy, introverted, or nervous to initiate conversation. We have learned that, without structure, the open networking at the Spring event often becomes small groups of people who already know each other interacting, so we now offer some sort of passive “game” to encourage mingling during this time. Our practicum courses rely heavily on the quality and availability of the industry professionals who attend and engage at these sessions with our students. Planning early to send invitations to industry professionals and confirm them on the schedule has ensured the best variety of guests; however, year after year, we have struggled to achieve a balance of engineering and computing professionals. Computing is almost always overrepresented, which limits the experience of our engineering students.

Implications The large Fall and Spring events are both important events for our students to help them see themselves as future professionals in computing and engineering, allow them to practice their networking skills, and to give them an early start at building their professional networks. The industry professionals, faculty/staff, and alumni who attend our events are of all genders, but many are women, which offers our students (also primarily women) the opportunity to meet potential role models in their fields. Also, while neither of these events has recruitment as an explicit goal, several students have made connections at these events that have led to job and internship offers. The practicum courses serve as significant sites of professionals development and career planning for diverse computing and engineering students who will soon enter the workforce equipped with tools to navigate a variety of career challenges and opportunities.

TRANSFERABILITY All of our pre-college and pre-professional initiatives are actually quite low budget programs. Because the high-school attendees bunk with current students in residence halls, we have no housing costs. The events are run by staff and students with faculty volunteers speaking on panels. We usually require three meals and snacks for each of the overnight programs and also provide some branded swag items. Escape Room (virtual) is free and currently utilizes imagination facts and Google forms so you can literally make an escape room for any topic. These are all very replicable initiatives and we will discuss tips for those who are interested. For our large Fall and Spring events, the goal is not to replicate any existing efforts of the Career Center on campus, but to supplement what they offer with a couple of events that are tailored to our student population (underrepresented students in computing and engineering). The Career Center has been a great partner, helping to spread the word about these events to employers. Our Office of Institutional Advancement has also helped us to recruit industry mentors for the practicum courses. This is an important consideration for anyone interested in replicating initiatives like these on campus; working in collaboration with campus partners will lead to greater success. Our presentation will cover these and other considerations as well as practical tips for getting started with any of these initiatives at your home institution.

Ireland, D. T., & Greenwood, C., & D'Eramo, E. L., & O'Keefe, K. B. (2021, January), Powerful Pre-College and Pre-Professional Supports: CWIT's Bookend Approach to Inclusive Excellence in Undergraduate Tech Education Paper presented at 2021 CoNECD, Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day .

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