“TRI-IT” You Might Just Like IT!

At first glance careers/educational pathways in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and information technology (IT) may not appear as a “go to” destination for women. According to a study conducted by the National Science Foundation in 2010, the number of people engaged in Science and Engineering-related professions has grown from 182,000 in 1950, to 5.5 million in 2007. Despite imminent projections for sustained growth in the S&E workforce, women still remain underrepresented. In that “fewer than 33% of students in computer courses are female, and women comprise only 20% of IT professionals and 13% of engineers.”(Source: National Science Foundation). Given this gender disparity, there has been a nationwide push to encourage women/girls to engage girls in information technology and STEM.

The Tri-Regional Information Technology (Tri-IT) grant program, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), is one such project targeted to increase the number of girls and women in IT and STEM. Tri-IT represents a cohesive partnership between three Florida colleges: Florida State College in Jacksonville (FSCJ), Seminole State College, and Florida A&M University, works with twelve high schools in Duval, Seminole and Leon counties in Florida, and is supported by a $1.5 million, 3-year Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) strategies grant. Through partnerships with local schools, the colleges provide after-school and summer programs in animation, digital media, web design, green living, robotics, CSI forensics, electronics, design and manufacturing, career development, health and wellness, podcasting, mobile devices and GIS/GPS, to 9th and 11th grade high school girls.

Dr. Linda Austin, program manager for Tri-IT at FSCJ states the goals of the program are to increase girls interest, skills and confidence in IT and STEM, so they pursue high school courses, college programs and careers in IT and STEM disciplines. Through engagement in interactive technology experiences, the program cultivates interest, skills and confidence in information technology and STEM-based college programs and careers. Furthermore, the “Girls Only” concept affords a supportive/collaborative learning environment. It fosters active engagement with teachers, project coordinators, fellow students, and encourages students to explore leadership opportunities, as well as a hands-on experience in IT, mathematics, and science. During the summer, all three regional sites have videoconferences to showcase student projects compiled during a week-long summer academy. Participants submit articles for the quarterly Tri-IT newsletter, projects for the website, and attend STEM day and TECH fest activities held at respective partner colleges.

Curriculum design for the project incorporates the four levels of James E. Banks’ Model of Multicultural Integration that bares close focus on diverse ethnic and cultural group perspectives. Curriculum also incorporates modules from other NSF-funded projects such as Enhancing Science and Technology Education and Exploration Mentoring, the TechBridge projects. In terms of its connection with FLATE, both share a common focus on STEM-based careers and educational pathways. Tri-IT has also adapted material from FL-ATE’s “Design a Luxury Coach” activity. Through this exercise, students learned about the six steps of the manufacturing process and applied them to design a model of a luxury coach. They were also able to visualize manufacturing through the videos and field trips of manufacturers in their local regions, and gained a better understanding of design and manufacturing processes, lean manufacturing, and how to work effectively in a team environment.

Indeed, the program has been highly successful. As of December 2010, two hundred and ninety eight students have been recruited into the program of which 236 are currently active. In 2010, the Tri-IT grant program received the Florida Association of Community Colleges (FACC) Equity Commission Exemplary Practice Award for outreach and access programs. Its lesson plans have also served as a valuable teaching tool in planning high school technology, and after-school and summer programs.

For more information on Tri-IT or the ITEST grants contact Dr. Linda Austin at laustin@fscj.edu /904.256.6981, or visit http://www.t3girls.com/. For information on FLATE’s virtual tours and industry based educational challenges visit www.madeinflorida.org/industry-based-educational-challenges, or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at barger@fl-ate.org.