Teachers, counselors, students sought for summer program to encourage girls to pursue technical careers

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue University is accepting applications from high school teachers, guidance counselors and students for a summer program that focuses on ways to attract girls to computer-related careers.

Surprising Possibilities Imagined and Realized Through Information Technology, known as SPIRIT, will be held in July on the Purdue campus.
The program for teachers is July 6-17, the program for counselors is July 12-17, and the program for students is July 13-17. Applications are available at the SPIRIT Web site at http://www.ITPossibilities.org. The application deadline for all three programs is Feb. 15.

The student program is open to both boys and girls who are currently in grades 8-11. The teacher program is open to teachers of students in ninth through 12th grades. Teachers, counselors and students who participated in SPIRIT last year are not eligible to participate this year.

Alka Harriger, SPIRIT director, professor and assistant head of the Department of Computer and Information Technology, said the program’s goal is to encourage more young women to pursue computing careers. This includes professions in information technology, computer science, network engineering and technology support.

“The focus of SPIRIT is on educating high school teachers and counselors — those who have a direct influence on students’ career choices – about the wide variety of career options in those fields,” she said. “We also spend a good amount of time demonstrating how those in computer-related careers can have a positive impact on society, which is a message that resonates with young women.”

SPIRIT, funded by a $1.26 million, three-year National Science Foundation grant, is in its second year. Last year, 24 teachers, 11 counselors and 67 students participated, Harriger said.

During the two weeks of the workshop, participants will work on projects and complete a variety of surveys that will measure the effectiveness of what was presented. All participants receive a daily stipend for their participation and will stay in air-conditioned residence halls for free.

Upon completion of the workshop, teachers will be expected to use what they have learned to enhance instruction in their own classrooms. They also will receive technical and design support, software, textbooks and sample lesson plans.

In addition, teachers and counselors can apply for graduate course credit, certification renewal units or continuing education units upon the successful completion of the SPIRIT program. Partial travel support also will be available to teachers who present their work at teacher conferences.

One major focus of the workshop is on Alice, a 3-D, interactive software development tool that helps students better understand programming concepts, but it has been used effectively by SPIRIT teachers in a variety of disciplines, including science, technology, engineering, math, English, Spanish and French.

“Alice is a gender-neutral tool and has been shown to be a great equalizer, regardless of a student’s learning ability,” Harriger said. “Alice reaches both gifted students and those who are struggling. The amazing thing is that they all understand the lessons. This surprises a lot of teachers, and for that reason, Alice was really popular with all groups last year.”

As a result of feedback from participants, Harriger said, more time at this year’s workshops will be devoted to Alice.

Harriger said general feedback about last year’s SPIRIT workshops was encouraging. An outside group of educators evaluated the effectiveness of SPIRIT so far and found that the program is making a positive impact on both teachers and students.

“We received a lot of positive comments,” she said. “We conducted focus groups and surveys after the sessions last year, and a few teachers told us that they are even interested in pursuing master’s or doctorate degrees in information technology because of what they learned in SPIRIT.”

Additional information and application forms can be found on the SPIRIT Web site at http://www.itpossibilities.org

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