Happy 4th Anniversary to CEWiT!

By Ellen Glover

Thursday, October 5, 2017

It was as the assistant dean for diversity, inclusion and education at the School of Informatics and Computing that Maureen Biggers, CEWiT’s co-founder and director, began thinking about ways she could diversify the tech community here at Indiana University.

“She saw the need for a cross-discipline approach for encouraging women to enter the field,” recalls IU First Lady Laurie McRobbie, who helped Biggers create CEWiT. So, Biggers took her idea to McRobbie, then-Kelley School professor Anne Massey (who is now Dean at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Business) and Informatics and Computing professor Beth Plale.

"We saw the vision to encourage, empower and advance women at IU via technology immediately, and seized on the idea of creating a Center of Excellence,” says McRobbie. The idea was brought to a number of women faculty and, in the spring of 2012, a group of 30 faculty and staff met at Wells House to brainstorm ideas for what would become CEWiT. The co-founders then developed a detailed plan over the course of a year, a proposal was successfully presented to Provost Lauren Robel, and the organization was officially launched in the fall of 2013. It is a unique center, and IU is the only university with this broad reaching initiative.

Biggers remembers the biggest goal of CEWiT, in the beginning, was to increase interest in technology among women studying at IU. “The jobs are there, the demand is there, the wage gap is smaller, and yet it is not on the radar for most college women,” says Biggers. “So the question became, what can IU do differently to promote a path in tech for women?”

It was also important that women like McRobbie and Biggers, who have long-time experience in the industry, be made available to female students interested in tech. “I wanted the undergraduate experience at IU for women to be one where they felt they could do anything, and that there were role models and supporters ready to help them get there,” says McRobbie.

In the four years CEWiT has been around, both Biggers and McRobbie think it has achieved a lot of what it has set out to do. The organization now boasts more than 4,000 affiliates, including students, faculty, staff, and alumnae, and has provided countless women, some of which never thought they would ever be interested in studying tech, with a community they can rely on for resources and support. More than 2000 students have chosen to affiliate with the Center, from all schools and colleges, from freshmen through PhD levels.

CEWiT's Four Founders

Laurie Burns McRobbie
IU First Lady

Maureen Biggers
Maureen Biggers
CEWiT Director

Anne Massey
Dean of University Of Wisconsin's School of Business.
Beth Plale
Professor of Informatics and Computing.

Not only that, but it is becoming more well-known here at IU.

“It seems everyone knows about it, and its reputation has been very positive,” says McRobbie. “We’ve also seen a number of young women benefit directly in terms of their skill development, that has led to good jobs upon graduation.”

CEWiT has established itself as a little community inside the larger framework of IU. Its student members have created their own special interest groups (SIG) within the broader organization that provide a community for all women. From Black Women in Technology (B-WiT), a group dedicated to empowering and promoting the advancement of women of color, to the Game Design SIG, which provides resources for women interested in video game development, these groups ensure that all CEWiT members have a network of other women with similar interests who are willing to help.

Also, CEWiT has helps young women become researchers through its Emerging Scholars Research Experience for Undergraduate Women (REU-W) program. This program pairs freshmen and sophomore women with faculty mentors who conduct research that actively engages students with computing and/or technology. The students perform 8-10 hours of research a week and take an 8-week Research Methods class. Demand far exceed our means to support the program – this year we had 280 applications for 30 spots.

Additionally, throughout the school year, CEWiT hosts several small events, and one large technology conference during the spring semester, the CEWiT Summit.

However, there is still quite a bit of work to be done, not just at IU but in the entire industry. Biggers says CEWiT is still trying to overcome its biggest challenge: “young women don’t come out of the K through 12 system with the belief that this is a place for them.”

But, CEWiT will continue to try to combat this system by implementing more course-related opportunities in basic tech subjects for IU women. They also hope to be endowed at IU so that it can remain a permanent part of Bloomington and even expand to the rest of IU’s campuses throughout the state.

In the near future, hopefully next semester, CEWiT will be launching an e-badge program in which members can earn specific credits for fulfilling goals within a threaded theme, similar to Girl Scout badges. These can then be put on resumes and LinkedIn pages to show motivation and even spark a conversation with a potential employer.

In the meantime, Biggers hopes CEWiT is helping to break down the barriers in the tech industry that women feel they are up against. She hopes this organization is proving to everyone that there is a place for women in tech. “You belong,” says Biggers. “Don’t just use technology. We need your help to tweak and create it too.”

“This is a crucially important undertaking, because the issues of lack of diversity and unwelcoming cultures in the tech industry affect us all,” says McRobbie. “It’s a societal issue that IU, like other institutions of higher education, is uniquely positioned to help address because we’re producing the next generation of tech workers and we need to produce more of them. We need a bigger and more diverse workforce if we’re going to realize the promise of the technology we have created and continue to create.”

Check out these infographics about our affiliates.

Click on the thumbnail images to view full-size.

Student Affiliate Majors

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All Affiliate Numbers

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