The 8th Annual It Girls Overnight Retreat took place on campus on Sunday, October 14 and Monday, October 15, bringing a group of high-achieving high school junior and senior girls to Syracuse University to learn about information technology as an academic discipline.

The event, organized by the School of Information Studies (iSchool), is designed to build confidence, inspire, and create a pathway for girls to study information technology as an academic discipline. An essential piece of the program involves creating meaningful connections between professional women, iSchool alumni who work in the IT industry, and the girls.

The program targets the significant gender imbalance in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. While women hold nearly half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 30 percent of STEM jobs, according to the Science and Engineering Indicators report published in 2016 by the National Science Foundation. Females make up 42 percent of the undergraduate population at the iSchool.

Workshops Offer Glimpse Into IT Discipline

Ernst & Young (EY), GE, IBM, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Microsoft, and Synchrony Financial sponsored the retreat. Representatives of the companies, some of them iSchool graduates and past It Girls retreat participants themselves, volunteered to lead workshops and participate in panel discussions.

Held on Sunday afternoon, these workshops introduced the girls to different facets of the information technology field through lectures, short hands-on participatory challenges, and coding assignments. The workshops were specifically designed to be reflective of the curriculum at the iSchool, to show the girls what to expect from an iSchool education.

JP Morgan Chase & Co.’s CyberGirlz: Are You Safe and Secure Online session presenters provided information on some of the dangers that teens face in the cyber world and how they can protect themselves online.

Representatives from Synchrony Financial ran a hands-on workshop focusing on introducing the girls to the user experience (UX) discipline by providing an opportunity for participants to develop wireframe mobile app mockups.

In the GE-sponsored Escape the Lab workshop, students in the iSchool’s library and information science program designed and delivered a session that covered information literacy topics, search skills, and how to detect false information online.

iSchool faculty members and Ph.D. students teamed up to host the Social Media for Women: Positive or Perilous?  workshop, which looked at the impact of social media on women as it relates to going viral, networks, bullying, fake news, and profiles. 

“Our program sponsors are a huge part of what makes this weekend event possible for the girls,” said Kim Pietro, assistant dean for advancement at the iSchool. “We’re grateful for their support of the program, and for their hands-on involvement in helping us deliver relevant, impactful, and informative presentations.”

After the workshops, the girls attended a dinner event emceed by iSchool Board of Advisors member Christine Parker G’93, and keynoted by Sharon Fortune Bowden, Financial Services Global Markets CTO at IBM. From there, the girls participated in the Late Night Challenge, organized by iSchool adjunct professor Laurie Ferger. The challenge allowed the girls to explore a project at the intersection of mathematics and design, using mathematical formulas to create different visual designs and representations. Prizes were awarded at the end of the challenge.

From the Late Night Challenge, girls went to explore the ropes course in the Flanagan Gymnasium, spent the night in the Syracuse University Sheraton, and then woke to breakfast hosted by YouTuber Margot Lee, a junior at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University with an iSchool minor. They then experienced their first college class, sitting in a session of IST 195 – Introduction to Information Technologies, taught by Professor Jeff Rubin.

Experienced Coders, High-Achievers

Of the 84 girls who came to this year’s event, roughly a third had some technical or coding experience under their belt. 2018 attendees also boasted the highest grade point average in all eight years, at 3.82, with 40% of the girls boasting  a perfect 4.0 GPA. 

“The academic aptitude we saw this year was the highest it has ever been,” noted Stephanie Worden, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Recruitment at the iSchool, and lead organizer of the event. “This group was very engaged with the program, with the content we presented, and with each other, it was so great to watch. Many of them formed some life-long friendships, I can tell.”

Fifteen States Represented

The girls came from all across the United States to attend the program. While the majority of attendees were from New York, other states represented included California, Connecticut, Florida, llinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.