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Last modified: Tuesday, March 4, 2008

IU Informatics awarded grant to develop hands-on computing initiative

Grant is aimed toward computer engagement for Hoosier school students K-12

March 4, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University School of Informatics faculty researchers have received an Academic Alliance Seed Fund grant from the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT). The seed fund award will be used to enhance the school's "Just Be" outreach program.

Entitled Just Be: Making IT Real, the new $15,000 grant emphasizes hands-on computer engagement for Hoosier school students as developed by Kay Connelly and Suzanne Menzel, professors in the IU School of Informatics; Anne Ottenbreit-Leftwich, an assistant professor in the IU School of Education; and Jamie McAtee, student chairperson of the Just Be initiative.

Just Be is an interactive road show in which undergraduate and graduate students travel to K-12 schools in Indiana delivering a highly interactive and educational presentation aimed at dispelling gender and race-based myths about careers in information technology.

Funded by Microsoft Corp., the Academic Alliance Seed Fund grant will be used to develop and evaluate team-based activities for high school students, incorporating basic computing concepts such as sensors and robots as well as pervasive computing concepts.

"Over the last three years, Just Be has reached more than 1,500 school-age children and 250 college students, nearly two-thirds of them under-represented women, low income, first generation and ethnic minorities," said Menzel.

A recent assessment pointed to the need for hands-on activities in order to inspire children not only to want to work with technology, but show them that they are capable of working with technology.

"Thus, the goal of this proposal is to enhance Just Be with hands-on activities to better engage K-12 children," said Connelly. "By having children work with friends on the activity, we counter the idea that technology is a solitary and socially isolating field."

Mobile computing (i.e., PDAs), pervasive computing (i.e., sensors, simple I/O devices and RFID tags) and robots (i.e., the Scribbler) will be used as activity platforms to demonstrate the vast potential of computing.

"This grant provides an important step in delivering programs that truly engage K-12 students in the excitement of computing," said Bobby Schnabel, dean, IU School of Informatics. "The school is committed to providing the resources necessary for IU to become a national leader in gender and ethnic diversity in computing."

Did you know:

  • Girls comprise fewer than 15 percent of all Advanced Placement (AP) computer science exam-takers, the lowest representation of any AP discipline?
  • At the top Fortune 500 IT companies, fewer than 5 percent of chief technical officers are women?
  • NCWIT reports that women's lack of participation in the IT workforce is leaving IT professions with a shrinking pool of qualified professionals, and that women's participation could have a profound impact on innovation and economic competitiveness.

For additional information about Just Be: Keeping IT Real, contact Lisa J. Herrmann, 812-855-4125,