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May 6, 2004

Computer Mania Day Aims to Get Girls Excited about Technology

On May 8, 500 sixth through eighth grade girls from public schools in Baltimore City and a dozen surrounding counties will spend a half-day with some of the top women in information technology (IT) fields for hands-on learning sessions aimed at closing the technology gender gap. Soledad O'Brien, anchor of CNN's "American Morning," will launch the "Computer Mania Day" program to be held at UMBC on Saturday, May 8 from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Computer Mania Day is a hands-on extension of the mission of UMBC's Center for Women and Information Technology (CWIT), which ABC News.com has named "the best resource on women and technology on the Web."

While recent studies show that female college students are gradually closing the gender gap in computer technology use and competency, enrollment of women in college IT programs continues to decline and the middle school years remain a vital crossroads as girls consider their academic and career choices. A 2003 online survey of 210,000 K-12 students by NetDay and BellSouth showed that "a significant gap in technology adeptness exists along gender lines, with far fewer females considering themselves advanced users of technology."

Research shows that the IT gender gap opens as early as the middle school years, when girls are most image-conscious and do not want to be labeled as "geeks" or "nerds." Girls make up only 14.3 percent of the students who take Advanced Placement courses in computer science, a key to success in IT-related fields at the college level.

Computer Mania Day is based on a program founded by Shirley Collier, CEO of Howard County-based wireless optical technologies firm, Optemax, LLC. Collier chaired the program from 1995 1998 in Howard County as it successfully increased the percentage of high school girls in elective IT classes in Howard County Public School System from 20 percent to 50 percent.

Since the founding program ended, the numbers of female high school students taking IT electives appear to be slipping. Last year, UMBC and CWIT partnered with Collier and area business and education leaders to revive and expand Computer Mania Day. The 2003 event hosted by UMBC drew 300 students from Baltimore and Howard County schools.

"Events like Computer Mania Day allow parents, educators and executives to help young women find their place in the world of information technology and as tomorrow's leaders," said Jennifer Jones, AT&T sales vice-president for the Mid-Atlantic region. AT&T joins several other high profile companies in sponsoring this event.

Computer Mania Day plans to welcome 500 participating girls from the following public school systems: Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Calvert County, Cecil County, Harford County, Howard County, Montgomery County, Prince George's County, Queen Anne's County, Somerset County, and St. Mary's County.

Throughout the day, students will work in small groups, rotating between interactive demonstration sessions covering such topics as "hardware that rocks," digital art and imaging, and the physics of a build-it-yourself hot air balloon.

Area high schools will highlight their elective IT courses and programs to the middle school girls while role-model businesswomen will discuss their high-tech careers. CWIT Scholars--scholarship students at UMBC dedicated to bridging the IT gender gap--will offer real-world advice to girls and parents on college majors and career paths involving technology.

A parallel parent and teacher program will complement the day by providing information about causes for girls' low enrollment in technology courses and what parents can do to encourage girls to embrace technology.

O'Brien will provide the keynote address. Jennifer Jones, Sales Center vice president of AT&T Business, will speak about "Why Businesses Should Care About Girls in Technology." Other scheduled speakers for the day's parent/teacher program include: UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski; Baltimore County Schools superintendent Joe Hairston; Assistant State Superintendent, Maryland State Department of Education Katharine M. Oliver, and CWIT Director Claudia Morrell.

The event ties into ongoing concerns by business and education leaders about long-term growth and workforce diversity in the IT industry. Decisions are being made now by middle school students that will have an impact on the workforce five to 10 years down the road.

For more information on Computer Mania Day, go to www.computer-mania.info. For more information on women and information technology, go to www.umbc.edu/cwit.

Posted by dwinds1 at May 6, 2004 12:00 AM