IIE Blog Opening Minds
IIE Blog Opening Minds

Women Enhancing Technology: Three Years of Impact

By: Beth Garriott on Friday, October 28, 2016

What would the world look like if girls were encouraged to be dreamers, tinkerers and makers? What if female students were truly supported, mentored and nurtured? What if women the world over had the same educational and professional opportunities as men?

Through WeTech, we not only envision this world—we work to actively build it.

In 2013, IIE and its consortium of private sector and NGO partners made a real commitment to creating an employee pipeline of girls and women into the technology sector. Launched as a commitment to action at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, the Women Enhancing Technology program (WeTech) is a set of innovative activities that provides training and builds networks for girls and women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) across the world. For the past three years, WeTech has opened up new life possibilities for young females, preparing them for and connecting them to STEM opportunities. The work is ongoing. But three years in, we pause to take stock of the tremendous impact WeTech has made thus far.

Alongside valued corporate partners, WeTech has implemented and grown four key programs across the United States, Asia and Africa.

1. Making STEM Fun for Middle School Girls: WeTech's Qcamp for Girls in STEM

More than half of all girls in the United States have said that they would not typically consider a career in STEM. WeTech is working to change that reality through the unique Qcamp for Girls in STEM. Qcamp is designed to create a space for long-term engagement in STEM for middle school girls in a creative, hands-on environment.

Sponsored by Qualcomm® and held at their Thinkabit Lab™ in San Diego, California, Qcamp is a two-week summer camp for middle school students recruited from the San Diego and Vista Unified School District from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. Over the last three summers, ninety 6th, 7th and 8th grade students were selected to participate in the camp and had a range of first-hand engineering experiences that game them insight into how technology is used in our everyday world. At each camp, students worked in teams to build hands-on projects that combined science and art, building their knowledge and skills in engineering, coding and using mobile devices as tools.

"Being in Qcamp has made me want to be an engineer and want to change the world for the better." - 2015 Camper

Qcampers are encouraged to be creative, curious and try new things as they learn STEM fundamentals in a supportive environment.

2. Fostering Entrepreneurship in High School Girls: WeTech's Afterschool Program

While girls’ interest in computer science diminishes over time, the biggest drop off occurs between the ages of 13 to 17. It follows that programming targeting girls at the high school level can have a significant impact on the proportion of women who ultimately study in STEM fields and pursue related careers. And enabling and empowering a new generation of women in the tech sector is vital to the global economy.

The WeTech Afterschool Program has engaged three annual cohorts of high school girls in Bangalore, India and offered these talented students unique opportunities to gain skills and knowledge in technology, better preparing them for higher education and for entering the job market. A total of 225 girls from schools in India have participated in a series of activities built around the global Technovation entrepreneurship competition, which challenges girls from all over the world to build business plans and mobile applications that address community problems. Nearly 100 employees from WeTech partner companies Goldman Sachs and Qualcomm mentored teams of students in Bangalore as they developed their world-changing apps.

"We learned to cooperate and work as a team. It was a great experience to learn from our mentors and eventually create our app, PsyFi."
- Vidushi, 2016 program participant in Bangalore, India from Team Javan

At the close of the program period each year, WeTech organized a Graduation Pitch Event in Bangalore where program teams pitched their business plans and mobile app idea to their peers and a panel of judges.

3. Investing in and Supporting University Women: WeTech's Scholarship, Internship and Mentorship Programs

The statistics for young women in engineering and technology studies and jobs are bleak: just 12% of engineers are women and women hold only 26% of all tech jobs, and despite earning the majority of bachelor’s degrees, women earn fewer than 20% of computer science degrees. We believe that providing young women studying STEM fields with university scholarships, mentorships and internships has material impact on their ability to successfully persist in their studies.

WeTech’s scholarship programs are sponsored by Qualcomm and Juniper Networks, and complement IIE’s high-impact scholarship, training, exchange and leadership programs in support of IIE’s mission of advancing international education and access to education worldwide. Over the last three years, thirty young women in the U.S., India, and Europe have been awarded scholarships between $5,000-$10,000 and internships at a Juniper Networks global office. The Qualcomm Global Scholars program has distributed sixty-six scholarships totaling $260,000 over a two-year period and matched each scholar 1:1 with Qualcomm employee mentors for virtual mentorships.

The program was indeed a life transforming experience for me; it helped me realize my strengths and improved my confidence. I could never even have imagined getting a mentor from Qualcomm. The experience was truly amazing." - Anjali, 2016 Global Scholar from Kerala, India

WeTech’s University Scholarship programs connect students with professional mentors and work opportunities that prepare them to enter and succeed in tech careers.

4. Strengthening the Ecosystem: WeTech's Seed Fund for Women and Girls in Computer Science in Africa

Though careers in the technology sector have become more accessible around the world, inadequate numbers of women are choosing to enter them. This gap is particularly problematic in Africa. Many young women across the continent perceive technology as the exclusive domain of men – and thus fail to build the necessary skills that could give them access to new opportunities.

From 2013-2015, the WeTech Seed Fund for Women and Girls in Computer Science in Africa, sponsored by Google.org, was a gateway for girls and young African women to get access to technology-related training, jobs and leadership roles. With the goal of investing in nascent women’s groups and individual champions who are taking impressive steps to support and encourage women and girls in computer science in Africa, WeTech disbursed a total of thirty-five grants totaling $330,000 nonprofits and individuals in 16 different countries throughout the continent. Through these organizations and individuals, the next generation of innovators and technologists are emerging. WeTech is excited to be a part of ensuring that change is happening not only on the community level, but within the broader landscape of women in tech worldwide.

I would like to empower young kids in township neighborhoods to embrace computer technology and what it can offer—in terms of learning, opportunities to innovate and problem solve—and so that they can be better equipped to resolve the issues within their communities."
-Ofentse, WeTech Seed Fund Grantee from Sci-Enza at the University of Pretoria, South Africa

WeTech's Seed Fund concluded in 2015, but the grantees continue to meet and work toward increasing access for women and girls in computer science throughout Africa.

Three Years of Impact...and More to Come

WeTech is driven by partners with a shared vision of women building the tech pipeline, from entry level to the executive level. We are grateful to our sponsors and partners who have helped countless women and girls enter and succeed in technology careers across the world. Much more work is necessary to make a lasting impact in this space, and IIE, through WeTech and other innovative programs, is committed to leading the way.

Read more about WeTech's pioneering approach to increasing the number of women in STEM

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For more than nine decades, the Institute of International Education has been at the forefront of international education. The Opening Minds blog is IIE’s take on how this field continues to change. Here the Institute’s leaders will explore international educational exchange, global student mobility, institutional partnerships, international development, and other topics and trends that are shaping higher education around the world.

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