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Local group works to increase use of technology among women

BY WHITNEY BLAKEMORE | MARCH 07, 2013 5:00 AM

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The recently formed “Tech Chicks” in Iowa City has one goal: improve women’s involvement of technology.

The Iowa Tech Chicks started in January as a way for women to improve their technical skills. The group meets once a month and offers weekend workshops to any woman, no matter what technical skill level she might be at.

“It is a group that has a combination of networking but also opportunities for women to learn and share the skills they have with each other,” co-head Andrea Flemming said.

The group’s goals mirror a national need as well. 

According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, there has been a 64 percent decline in the number of first-year undergraduate women interested in majoring in computer science from 2000 to 2011.

At the University of Iowa, 278 undergraduates were enrolled in the Computer Science department last semester — 243 were men, 35 were women, according to the UI Registrar’s Office. Last semester, there were 103 undergraduates in the Informatics program — 82 were men, 21 were women.

“Efforts like Iowa Tech Chicks are very cool,” said UI computer-science Professor Padmini Srinivasan. “We need to approach the problem of involving women in computing in a multipronged way. So if there are groups out there that are nurturing women into this field, that is great.”

Flemming said this group is not only geared toward women working in and with technology, but also for women in non-technology related fields who feel learning these skills would benefit them.

The group members discuss everything from using social media to informational sessions such as “hackathons.”

Last week, approximately 20 women attended a learning lunch workshop led by Laura Christenson, the UI web-presence coordinator.

“I basically went over how to effectively get content on to the web in a way that people will be able to use it, because people don’t read on the web at all, they just scan and try to pick up information,” she said.

Christenson has attended every meeting so far and feels there is a need to get women of all technical abilities to support each other.

The founders are planning ways to get UI students involved.

“We did a presentation to the business and technology association that has some female members, and we plan to stay in contact with them,” cofounder Rachel Stewart said.

Members of the group said the lack of women in technology majors is one incentive for this group to connect with students.

Stewart said the group members are looking into expanding the group to areas such as Davenport, and they have been in contact with the national organization to become one of their affinity groups.

“They have some great resources and some great projects that we can get in on and bring them here, and we can use some of their resources,” Stewart said. “There are really some very interesting things about getting women into technology.”


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