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NCWIT 2014: Academic Alliance

The National Center for Women and Information Technology had its annual meeting in May 2014, and a big part of that included meetings of the Academic Alliance members. The Academic Alliance seeks to “implement institutional change in higher education” through a collection of programs. I’ve been on the steering committee for the Academic Alliance for the last two years, and I’ve co-chaired the NCWIT Undergraduate Research Mentoring Award for the last two years as well. There’s some real enthusiasm in this growing group of people, and it’s always been energizing to connect with them.

Undergraduate research has been a passion of mine since my grad school days, and I started our VTURCS undergrad research program upon coming to Virginia Tech. So I suspect it’s no surprise that I find the Undergraduate Research Mentoring Award to be a great way to honor faculty members who make efforts to mentor undergrads in research. I was tagged to help lead the selection committee after winning the inaugural award in 2011, assisted over the years by Margaret Burnett, Morreale, and Maureen Doyle–with invaluable assistance by NCWIT’s Kim Kahaher. There are four categories for the nominees to account for the differing goals of Ph.D. and BS/MS schools, and of senior and junior faculty members. Over the course of a year, we solicited over 30 nominations, arranged at least 3 reviews for each nominee, looked at overall scores and adjusted scores (based on reviewer scoring), delved into the packets ourselves, and–the tough part–chose four winners from among the many great nominees. NCWIT has a great writeup about the four winners: Bob Beck, Marie desJardins, Silvia Figueira, and Alan Jamieson.

There were other important programs and award that were announced at the meeting, including the Pacesetters program (discussed in another blog post), the Sharing Practices Project (working on an interface to share and access early-stage ideas that relate to women in computing), the NCWIT Student Seed Fund, and the inaugural Harrold and Notkin Research and Graduate Mentoring Award (won by Nancy Amato).

Since the Academic Alliance is the biggest sub-group within NCWIT, we divided the core discussion section by type of school–Virginia Tech was part of the Ph.D. in CS/CE group, with other groups focusing on community colleges, 4-year colleges, etc. They also divided questions according to ways that NCWIT and the AA can help me (i.e., faculty and administrators), ways they can help students, and ways we in attendance can help NCWIT and the AA. I’ll link to the full report when it’s released, but to me a few things jumped out as unresolved problems that need to be addressed in moving forward:

  • Resource availability for members. It seemed like lots of concerns resolved around difficulties in finding and accessing information about promising ideas. There’s lots of “Best Practices” information that’s available, and the Sharing Practices Project mentioned previously seems like a step in the right direction. Kudos for the team that’s working on that, as they really want a good product before release. A highly usable interface (searchable in multiple ways) seems essential, as does a well-populated and well-maintained underlying database of ideas. Several of our steering committee meetings have focused on these issues, and I’m hopeful that this is moving in a good direction.
  • More promotion of the awards (and maybe more awards). There was a comment about a lack of transparency in the awards process, which surprised me–but maybe just because I’ve been on the “inside” for a while. I’ve found the process to be very rigorous, with lots of advertising of deadlines early and often, and lots of communication with nominees and reviewers. Deadlines and the timeline for decisions are made available on the award web site as soon as they are known. It’s encouraging that the Harrold and Notkin Award is following a similar process, and I hope that other award categories are identified and funded.
  • My biggest concern connects underrepresentation of women in CS with the current enrollment spike. A great many of the techniques mentioned encourage enrollment in CS, not only among women but also among all students. But with increases in enrollment, there are the dual challenges of not enough time for recruiting events and too many students to effectively teach and mentor. I feel very pinched for time and resources, and diversity issues seem to slide down my priority list.

I’m hopeful that NCWIT, and particularly the Academic Alliance, will seek to be at the forefront in addressing these issues. There’s a great bunch of people who are working hard on these problems, and I look forward to helping however possible in the future.

  1. dsblank
    June 8, 2014 at 8:55 am

    Great list of unresolved issues! I, too, hope we can do more to address these (I’m on the Recruitment and Engagement NCWIT team). Our team helped develop the new Activity and Change Tracker http://www.ncwit.org/activities which can also help to spread knowledge of the Sharing Practices collection. Please feel free to try it, and see if that helps.

  2. June 10, 2014 at 12:07 am

    Doug, glad things are up and running with the ACT tool. It’s great that it’s already got a good core set of entries, and I hope people will try it and contribute to it early and often as it will only get better with use!

  1. June 4, 2014 at 10:42 am

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