Girls get EXITEd about tech careers
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
Twelve-year-old Molly Spitler of Tucson didn’t have a technology career in mind when she signed up for IBM Corp.’s EXITE summer technology camp for girls.
But building a Web page, programming a robot and holding a human brain during the weeklong camp opened up a whole new world of possibilities for the Flowing Wells Junior High seventh-grader.
“Before, I wanted to be a lawyer, but since we did the marine biology, I want to do that,” said Molly, referring to one EXITE camp session at a University of Arizona science lab where campers dissected squid.
She was among 30 Flowing Wells Junior High students who participated this week in IBM’s EXITE – Exploring Interests in Technology and Engineering – camp for girls.
Fellow EXITE camper and Flowing Wells student Hannah Waddell already was pretty good with a computer, but the challenge of programming a Lego robot to follow a trail and avoid obstacles was something new.
“I had never done anything like that before,” said Hannah, 13, who is keeping her career options open but is leaning toward becoming a teacher.
“A lot of girls don’t recognize how cool math and science can be,” she said. “It’s just a great experience, and I’m really glad I got involved in it.”
That’s just the kind of reaction organizers of IBM’s EXITE camps are looking for.
Launched nationally in 1999 and locally in 2001, the program is aimed at boosting the number of women in engineering and technology careers.
About 1,200 students participated in EXITE camps at 40 IBM sites worldwide. Each site comes up with its own curriculum for the program.
Industry figures show the proportion of women in the computing sector dropped from 44 percent in 1996 to 32 percent in 2004.
“There’s not enough women in programming or engineering roles in companies, and in fact, it’s declining,” said Cindy Bogle, Tucson site manager for IBM’s Tivoli software and an EXITE camp mentor.
Bogle said it helps to create a space for teen girls to check out technology without the glare of peer pressure.
“This middle-school, junior-high age is where girls start to worry about what boys think, so this environment takes them away from all that, and they make tremendous progress,” she said.
The students broke into six-person teams to build a Web site around themes such as “Be the Best You Can Be,” with each student responsible for designing a single page.
On Friday, the girls put the finishing touches on colorful sites with animated graphics, links and photos.
“Some programs teach them how to build a page, but we wanted to give them the concept of how to build a whole site so it has continuity,” Bogle said.
The mentoring of Bogle and several other female IBM technologists also gets the girls’ attention.
“There’s not very many women in technology and science, so it’s cool they chose it,” EXITE camper Samantha Beal said.
Kim Babeu, Flowing Wells Junior High physical education teacher, said, “Working one on one with these IBM engineers, they have a one-to-one connection with these women, and it gives these girls something to look forward to and someone to look up to.”
“The growth in these girls from Monday to Friday is unbelievable, not only in their technical skills but in their belief in themselves that science and technology are fun and that they can do it,” said Babeu.
Among the biggest role models the EXITE campers met was Terri Mitchell, an 18-year IBM veteran who became head of Big Blue’s storage systems development center in Tucson in April.
Mitchell, whose father was an IBM engineer in New York, said she finds that girls are more interested in the real-world applications of technology than the technology itself.
With the EXITE camp, “they’re able to have enough hands-on (experience) that they really understand what the technology is, rather than just what it does,” she said.
Female role models are needed to reinforce the message that technology careers aren’t just for men, Mitchell added.
“Girls today are more tech-savvy than I ever was. However, they still can’t see themselves in technology jobs,” she said.
● Contact reporter David Wichner at 573-4181 or firstname.lastname@example.org.