Dreaming Big at SXSWedu
MAR 16, 2015 09:47 AM
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Dreaming Big at SXSWedu
By Rane Johnson-Stempson
I am totally psyched to be here in Austin, Texas, for South by Southwest Education (SXSWedu), a spinoff of the world-famous SXSW festivals of music, interactive, and film. I’m excited not only because it’s a chance to hear some great music and eat some unbelievable food. What really has me excited is the opportunity to promote computer science and information technology as a career option for young women.
Big dreams for girls in computing
SXSWedu will screen "Big Dream," an inspiring film that tells the intimate stories of seven young women who are breaking barriers as they follow their passion in science, technology, engineering, and math—the acronymically named STEM fields. After the screening, I will be part of a panel discussion on the opportunities and challenges for girls who want to pursue STEM studies and careers. My fellow panelists are Kelly Cox, the director of the film, and Meredith Walker, the executive director of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, an organization that encourages young people to “change the world by being yourself.” Moderating the panel is longtime STEM advocate Tricia Berry, director of the Women in Engineering program at the University of Texas at Austin.
SXSWedu fosters innovation in learning and brings together a community that’s passionate about changing education. What better place to deliver the message that computer science is creative, collaborative, impactful, and a great field for girls! I want to tap into the electrifying energy here and empower young women, showing them that they can help solve the world’s greatest problems by pursuing computing careers. I want them to understand that we need their talents in STEM.
How badly do we need their talents? Well, according to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, computing occupations rank among the fastest growing and highest paying jobs in the United States. The Bureau estimates that the number of computing jobs will grow by about 18 percent from 2012 to 2022. However, they also project that many of these positions will go unfilled, due to an insufficient number of college graduates with computing-related degrees. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013.)
As you may have heard me say previously, encouraging girls to take computer science courses is crucial to boosting the number of college graduates with computing-related degrees in the workforce. The need is critical. But don’t just take my word for it. Consider these facts:
Despite high school girls accounting for 56 percent of all students who take advanced placement exams, they make up only 20 percent of the students in AP computer science classes. (Source: AP Program Participation and Performance Data 2014. New York, NY: National Center for Women & Information Technology, 2014.)
At the college level, women receive just 18 percent of all computer science degrees, despite their earning 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees. (Source: Women and Information Technology: By the Numbers. National Science Board, 2014.)
Women hold only 26 percent of computer and mathematics occupations, even though they make up 47 percent of the total workforce. (Sources: Women in the Labor Force: A Databook. Washington, DC: US Department of Labor; College Board, 2014; Science and Engineering Indicators 2014. Arlington VA: National Science Foundation, [NSB 14-01].)
These statistics demonstrate that the talents of half our population are underutilized in computer science and information technology occupations. Furthermore, achieving gender balance in computer science increases the likelihood that computer software and hardware, and the myriad products and services they support, will be better aligned with the needs of all members of society. The addition of new talent and broader perspectives will have a positive impact on our economic growth and international competitiveness.
We know that the personal stories in Big Dream can excite young women, their families, and friends about opportunities STEM. Already this year, there have been more than 30 screenings of the film, and every day more organizations are signing up to show it. Learn how you can host a screening.
I want to acknowledge my colleagues on the Microsoft team—and our partners who are supporting our presence at SXSWedu. If you’re in Austin, check us out at the following sessions:
  • Cameron Evans, speaking at Data Privacy: Can Innovation and Privacy Coexist?
  • Brendon Lynch, speaking at Designing Principles for a Trusted Environment
  • Mike Tholfson, presenting Microsoft OneNote—Organize, Save Time, Collaborate
  • Lenny Schad/Houston IHS, participating in a discussion on Creating Common Standards for Ed Data Privacy
  • Dallas Dance/Baltimore is speaking on Preparing Globally Competitive Students and What You Are Missing on the PK-12 Marketplace.
In addition, I can’t wait to hang out and meet educators and students at our Microsoft Lounge in the Hilton.
Rane Johnson-Stempson is Principal Research Director at Microsoft Research.  
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