Southwestern University has been named an Alliance Partner with the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT).

The center was founded in 2003 by a coalition of leaders representing business, education and government to ensure that women’s knowledge and skills are fully represented in the creation, development and consumption of information technology. NCWIT Alliance Partners are academic entities such as departments, schools or colleges that share the organization’s goals and work collectively to help achieve them.

“I am thrilled we have been asked to be a part of the Alliance,” said Barbara Owens, associate professor of computer science and Southwestern’s representative to NCWIT. “This affiliation will enhance our ability as a department and as an institution to attract students to our computing program.”

Nationally, women receive only about 20 percent of the computer science degrees awarded. Owens noted that the list of Alliance Partners is impressive. It includes more than 70 computer science and IT departments across the country at research universities, community colleges, women’s colleges and minority-serving institutions.

Benefits of being an Alliance Partner, Owens said, include the ability to apply for grant money from the organization. The NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund offers start-up funds of up to $15,000 per project to develop and implement initiatives for recruiting and retaining women in computing and information technology.

Southwestern also will have access to experts in program assessment, as well as expertise on the design and implementation of computing courses that welcome all students.

Owens has dedicated herself to NCWIT’s goals throughout her career. Since 2003, her computer science classes at Southwestern have served as a beta test site for a programming language called ALICE that was designed to attract middle school girls to computer science.

Owens also is working on an oral history project documenting stories of women who pioneered the field of computer science. She currently serves as chair of the Association of Computing Machinery’s (ACM) Special Interest Group in Computer Science Education (SIGSCE), the primary professional society for computer science education.

“Barbara is really a pioneer in this area,” said Southwestern Provost Jim Hunt. “The fact we were invited to participate in this alliance is evidence of her long-standing commitment to women in computer science.”

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