Arlington, Va.—The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $3.25 million to establish the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), a collaborative effort between universities, industry, government and not-for-profit organizations led by the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology.
The four-year award is the largest education and workforce award ever made by NSF's Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate.
The center has the ambitious 20-year goal of fostering equal participation for women and men in information technology careers, both in academia and industry.
"The lack of women in information technology (IT) reduces the nation’s technological workforce, hinders women’s economic advancement, and undermines the creativity and success of the IT industry," said NSF division director Gregory Andrews. "The CISE directorate supports projects such as the National Center for Women and Information Technology to understand why so many women avoid IT careers and to increase participation by women and other under-represented groups."
While the center's overall strategy encompasses the full education and career pipeline, the NSF award provides financial support for NCWIT's infrastructure and a research emphasis on undergraduate and graduate education and faculty careers. Led by Robert Schnabel and Lucinda Sanders at Colorado and Telle Whitney of the Anita Borg Institute, the center will coordinate activities by scientists in seven organizations.
NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5.58 billion.
NSF supports four main research projects at the center.
- At the undergraduate level, researchers will collect, evaluate and disseminate effective practices for course curricula and instruction.
- A community college pipeline project will look at ways to recruit women from community colleges to four-year degree programs in computer science and information technology.
- At the graduate level, researchers will study a group of computer science graduate students over several years to understand their experiences, progress and successes.
- The faculty careers project will research the factors that help or hinder women attain senior leadership positions in academic departments.
"The spirit of partnership that so many distinguished people and organizations have brought to the center to address this vital national issue is truly remarkable," said Schnabel, Colorado's vice provost for academic and campus technology. "A crucial part of this is the academic and industry alliances which will contribute and adapt effective practices and drive change nationally."
Despite gains in gender equity elsewhere, women dropped from 37 percent of computer science degree holders in 1984 to only 28 percent in 2001, according to national data. And while women comprised 33 percent of information technology professionals in 1990, that figure was down to 26 percent in 2002. Yet according to Department of Labor projections, the number of high-skill IT jobs will increase by 35 percent from 2002 to 2012, double the growth rate for jobs overall.
The National Center for Women & Information Technology, led by Executive Director Lucinda Sanders, is comprised of a network of partner organizations, companies and individuals. In addition to CU-Boulder and the Anita Borg Institute, the center’s hubs conduct programmatic and research activities for the center: the Association for Computing Machinery, the Computing Research Association, the Girl Scouts of the USA, Georgia Institute of Technology, and the Berkeley and Irvine campuses of the University of California. NSF, the AT&T Foundation, HP, the Colorado Institute of Technology and various individuals supplied planning support for the center. The hub institutions each have provided significant support for the center.
Founding members of the academic alliance include: Brown University, Carnegie Mellon University, Columbia University, Florida State University, Indiana University, Smith College, Spelman College, Stanford University, Texas A&M University, University of California San Diego, University of Maryland Baltimore County, University of Texas El Paso, University of Washington and University of Wisconsin. Industry alliance founding members include Apple, Avaya, Bank of America, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Sun.