IWITTS' Project Model for Success has produced positive numerical outcomes in the three national research projects we have spearheaded: the CalWomenTech and WomenTech Projects, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the New Workplace for Women Project, funded by the US Department of Labor Women's Bureau. What's more, the CalWomenTech Project was highlighted by NSF in 2009 for demonstrating significant achievement and program effectiveness.
What's the secret to CalWomenTech's success? Read on to find out.
The CalWomenTech Project Model embodies two of IWITTS' core beliefs:
- The vast majority of educators (and employers) are eager to recruit and retain women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM); however, they don't know how and lack the time and resources to figure it out on their own. IWITTS believes that the more off-the-shelf, turn-key solutions can be provided, the faster institutions will implement the program elements shown by research to result in successful outcomes.
- Change will happen faster and be institutionalized if it is supported from the top-down. To this end, IWITTS's focus is not just on STEM instructors, but also includes the key leaders, staff and administrators of the colleges.
The IWITTS CalWomenTech Project model utilizes a top-down leadership team approach that has been used successfully in three of the organization's multi-site national projects.
In the CalWomenTech Project each college has a key leader and a co-leader, along with a leadership team with ten key members. The key leader, in many cases, is the dean or department chair that oversees the technology programs or is the dean of workforce development. The co-leader is often a key instructor.
IWITTS recommends that in community colleges the leadership team include:
- Dean/chair of targeted program(s)/department(s)
- Instructors in program(s)/department(s)
- Recruitment/Outreach Director
- Public Information Officer
- Director of Counseling and/or staff
- Director of Tutoring and/or staff
- Equity/Women's Center Coordinator
- Representative from feeder high school(s) or job training programs
The leadership team model ensures that the entire college will work together to make sure women are recruited and retained in technology and trade programs, and that the program will not be expected to take on functions outside of its normal duties.
The leadership team model also increases the likelihood that changes resulting from the CalWomenTech Project will be institutionalized and persist beyond the life of the Project. While IWITTS has seen positive results based on the individual efforts of an instructor or administrator, those results are usually lost if that person leaves the institution or their responsibilities change.
Each of the community college sites in the Project were provided with template recruitment materials and a "Women in Technology" website customized to the college. This way the college could spend their time on classroom and support strategies, instead of graphic/web design and developing marketing materials.
The colleges still provided IWITTS with identified female role models and photographs, and distributed the marketing collateral; however, this took significantly less time and work than creating materials from scratch. Community colleges are especially under-resourced in the design and development area, which is why IWITTS offers a Women in Technology Outreach Kit, featuring customizable templates for recruitment materials and web pages.
Similarly, in the classroom, the CalWomenTech Project provided colleges with as many off-the-shelf tools as possible. For example, the mission of the Learning Library is to provide building-block technology skills to female (and male) students who may come to class with less experience than their classmates. A sample library holding is a CD and workbook on spatial reasoning; NSF research has shown that teaching this skill improves retention of women in engineering (Sorby 2001). There are also tool identification resources and videos and games that teach math skills.
Furthermore, the CalWomenTech Project developed the following resources for the colleges:
- Proven Practices Collection – A free collection of journal articles, case studies, podcasts, webinars and other resources on proven practices in recruiting and retaining women to technology.
- CWT Learning Library – A variety of resources for purchase -- books, software, and more -- that teach students building block skills. (CalWomenTech sites were given a budget for these items.)
IWITTS Supporting Activities
- On-site training including strategic plan development
- Technical assistance and consultation
- Monthly planning and status update phone conference meetings
- Annual college site visits for additional training and revising strategic plans
- Facilitation of peer-mentoring relationships among colleges on CalWomenTech strategies accomplished via annual user meetings in the Bay Area
Project goals included:
- Increase the number of women enrolled and retained in STEM education in the eight selected CalWomenTech community colleges.
- Institutionalize gender equity strategies in each participating college to ensure that successful recruitment and retention strategies are used beyond the life of the project.
- Illustrate to the California and national community college system, through both state and national dissemination of the project, that STEM gender equity strategies increase recruitment and retention of women in STEM courses.
Anticipated outcomes included:
- Increased enrollment of women by an average of 10% to 15% in targeted STEM classes.
- A retention rate for females comparable to males in targeted classes.
- An increase each year of Project participant's use of CalWomenTech resources.
- CalWomenTech recruitment and retention strategies incorporated directly into the college's regular practices and change in instructor teaching style and curriculum in targeted courses.
- Dissemination of successful CalWomenTech strategies statewide and nationally via the mainstream education system.
- Increased focus of the California community college system on recruitment and retention of females into STEM.
The CalWomenTech Project successfully accomplished the majority of its goals and anticipated outcomes. The Project was able to increase the number of women recruited to targeted introductory technology courses at six of the seven CalWomenTech colleges that remained with the Project through spring 2011. Five of the seven colleges significantly surpassed the goal of a 10% to 15% increase in female students in intro courses with improvements ranging from 21.8% to 46.3%. Four of seven colleges had comparable male and female completion rates for introductory courses within 5% of each other, and all seven of the CalWomenTech colleges achieved a completion rate for females and males within 7% of each other in advanced courses. Significantly, an unanticipated outcome of the Project was that four of the seven CalWomenTech colleges increased the completion rates of both female and male technology students, and six colleges improved the retention of male students.
As soon the CalWomenTech colleges began to experience success, IWITTS started to work with the Leadership Teams at each college on institutionalizing successful practices and strategies from the Project. IWITTS' Leadership Team project model ensured that any changes and strategies implemented by the CalWomenTech colleges employed pre-existing college infrastructure and became a part of the college's regular practices.
The early success of several of the CalWomenTech colleges also allowed IWITTS to begin disseminating Project results and strategies to a wider audience of community college educators through conference presentations, online strategies such as webinars, and through face-to-face trainings conducted by IWITTS right away.
The City College of San Francisco (CCSF) -- one of the eight community colleges that received technical assistance during the course of this grant -- was IWITTS' partner for the CalWomenTech Project.
Carmen Lamha served as the Co-Principal Investigator on the grant. Ms. Lamha, Chair of the Computer Networking Information Technology (CNIT) Department at CCSF, served on the National Advisory Committee of the Project and oversaw CCSF's role. She provided consultation on the feasibility of strategy implementation from the ground level.
IWITTS depends on its national advisory committee members for their support and expertise on every project, including the CalWomenTech Project.
In collaboration with the Project's external evaluator, Evaluation & Research Associates (ERA), the CalWomenTech Project developed an evaluation methodology and plan to measure both quantitative and qualitative outcomes.
Evaluation goals included:
- Measuring progress towards the stated outcomes of the Project
- Providing the colleges with "real time" data on their enrollment and retention outcomes, so they could use this knowledge to hone Project strategies developed in annual recruitment and retention plans
The CalWomenTech Project understood the importance of continuous feedback, and built a Total Quality Management (TQM) approach directly into the Project with the help of its external evaluators. Community college leadership team members, instructors and female students were asked for frequent input via anonymous surveys and interviews about IWITTS' services and implementation of Project strategies. This allowed IWITTS to improve Project delivery.
In 2009, the Project conducted a survey of female students in targeted technology classes across seven of the eight colleges on what recruitment and retention strategies have proven most effective (n=60), from a total pool of 121. The results from the "CalWomenTech Survey of Female Technology Course Students" allowed the colleges to see which classroom strategies the women were currently experiencing, which ones they found most helpful, and which ones they would most like to experience going forward.
To IWITTS' knowledge, this is the first time that female students in technology courses have been surveyed on what retention strategies they have experienced in their courses and which ones they feel are most helpful.
The CalWomenTech Project is funded by The Program for Research on Gender in Science and Engineering from The National Science Foundation - Grant no. 0533564