Busloads of girls from all over the country arrived early Sunday morning on October 22 for the start of a uniquely designed event: It Girls. The It Girls Overnight Retreat, an event hosted by the Syracuse University School of Information Studies, is a weekend-long retreat specific to high school juniors and seniors interested in the field of technology.

Students from Boston, New York City, California, Atlanta, and Washington D.C. all arrived at College Place to be greeted by volunteers from the University. The weekend consisted of various classes, special guests, and technology-related events.

It Girls Overnight Retreat’s Academic Component

Ingrid Erickson is a professor at the iSchool who teaches a graduate introduction to information management course. For the It Girls event, she taught a class called ‘Bot to the Future’. According to Erickson, the class incorporated the implementation of chatbots.

“[The class] will teach the participants about chatbots, how they are used in various ways today (i.e., customer service, online therapy, etc.) and also how the encode values in the way that they are designed,” Erickson said. “ We’ll play around a bit with chatbots directly, too, so folks can get a better sense of how they work.”

Also, this is the first year Erickson has participated in It Girls. She started teaching at the iSchool in January 2017.

“Technology should be more innovative for everyone.”

The Power of Women in Tech

The It Girls alumni network consists of over 570 girls who have completed the program, with 90 attending Syracuse University after completing the event. The program started in 2011, with a group of high school seniors attending the event. The iSchool decided to continue the program after the first small event and call it It Girls. The program’s sponsors this year include GE (General Electric), J.P. Morgan Chase Co., EY (Ernst and Young), IBM, and Synchrony Financial.

Erickson envisions the event being a place that has a more relaxed environment compared to a classroom setting.

“I do imagine that our workshop will make the field of tech feel less imposing and formal. Also, the event needs people who can imagine any type of mediated interaction—including ones that have never been imagined before,” Erickson said. “It’s not enough to get more women into the field of tech; we need to change the field of tech to be more inclusive by making new things matter. We should be calling out things that shouldn’t. Technology should be more innovative for everyone (not just Silicon Valley’s image of themselves).”

Syracuse University iSchool Ph.D. student Mabi Harandi helps It Girls in a workshop.

Syracuse University iSchool Ph.D. student Mabi Harandi helps It Girls in a workshop.

Furthermore, Laurie Ferger, an adjunct professor at the iSchool, also teaches an It Girls workshop. It combines technology with correlations in the fashion industry and mathematical algorithms.

“When I started to work, I made programs for fashion designers. This was software for their designs,” Ferger said. “Besides the program, I want to talk to the girls specifically about this software, and its application to the technology industry.”

Additionally, staff who have volunteered their time have high hopes for the program and how technology will impact their future. 

“I hope that the girls learn how any technology is latent with values; designed to support some imagined purpose, which is conceived to have positive and negative outcomes. Also, design is about these value choices, even when it doesn’t look like something has been designed,” Erickson said.