Recently, some of the largest technology companies in the world released diversity reports, revealing alarming gender and racial disparities in the tech workforce. On average, women account for only 30% of employees at Google, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Facebook, and Salesforce. That number drops to an average of less than 20% for technical and top-level management positions. (PRandcompany.com 7/18/14) The lack of racial diversity in the Silicon Valley tech industry is even more pronounced, with more than 60% of employees being white, 30% Asian, 3% Hispanic/Latino, and 2% African-American (San Jose Mercury News 8/5/14).
A first step toward addressing these disparities is increasing the number of women and minorities who pursue tech degrees. Women earned less than 20% of computer science and engineering undergraduate degrees in 2010. Underserved minorities earned less than 20% of computer science and roughly 12% of engineering degrees in 2010 (National Science Foundation, 2013). The ability to attract students to these degrees is limited by the lack of tech education available in public schools. Currently, 9 out of 10 K-12 schools in the U.S. do not offer computer science courses (Time Magazine 7/31/14). It is no surprise that close to 60% of students who begin high school interested in pursuing STEM change their minds by graduation. (U.S. News and World Report 1/31/13).
Given that many schools – especially those in low-income communities – do not have the resources to provide technology education to students, how do we motivate a new generation of girls and minorities to pursue a future in tech?
MOUSE California’s Student Tech Leadership program engages students in technology education during grades 4-12 by training youth to be the technology experts for their communities. Our program enables young people to have the kinds of rich, hands-on learning experiences with technology that are not available to most students during the school day, while also training them to be leaders in their schools and neighborhoods. Through project-based learning focused on solving tech needs at their schools, students acquire new skills – learning to code, setting up a network connection, building a website, etc. – and share what they learn with their peers. This service learning approach helps young people develop the curiosity, focus, and imagination that sustain them as learners and leaders.
MOUSE reaches more than 3,000 students in over 100 California sites with a full curriculum of tech education and experience, all for an average annual cost-per-student of only $300. Approximately 60% of our students are African-American or Hispanic/Latino, nearly 60% qualify for the Free/Reduced Meal program, and 40% are female, a remarkable diversity achievement for a STEM program. MOUSE continually targets high-need school districts to reach students who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM programs. For example, 100% of MOUSE students in the San Francisco Unified School District, 99% in the Oakland Unified School, 89% in East San Jose’s Franklin-McKinley School District, and 85% in East Palo Alto/Menlo Park’s Ravenswood School District qualify for the Free/Reduced Meal program.
Closing the Digital Divide
In order to strengthen our focus on underrepresented students, MOUSE has partnered with multiple school district collaboratives to expand our reach in low-income schools, including:
- DSG (Youth Empowerment Strategies for Success Direct Services Group), an East Palo Alto/Belle Haven collaborative of non-profits working to improve student success in the high-need Ravenswood City and Sequoia Union High School Districts.
- The Franklin McKinley Children’s Initiative is a collaboration of theFranklin McKinley School District and community leaders based on the Promised Neighborhood model. The model offers a continuum of cradle-to-career solutions of both educational programs and family and community supports.
- East Side Alliance, a collaborative between San Jose’s East Side Union High School District and its seven elementary feeder districts designed to improve academic achievement and set students on a college or career path. The Alliance establishes common instructional practices and programming among the elementary and middle schools feeding into the Eastside Union High School District. MOUSE’s Student Tech Leadership program is part of the common curriculum/programs shared between school districts.
In order to inspire more girls to follow a technology college and career path, MOUSE is leveraging its relationships with Silicon Valley tech companies with whom we already partner. For instance, we are in talks with Symantec to identify a way to participate in the company’s Women’s Action Network. We are also in talks with Apple, a potential partner, to discuss how MOUSE can support Apple’s diversity initiative.
Components of MOUSE’s program include the following, each of which is more fully detailed below.
- Online Curriculum and Resources, including
- 100-hour online curriculum supporting Common Core standards,
- MOUSE blogs and other collaboration tools,
- Specialist Certifications,
- Curriculum planning and management tools,
- Monthly micro project contests, and
- Program assessment badges.
- Instructor/Coordinator Training and Support, including
- Hands-on trainings for instructors and site team,
- A annual Spring Summit for participating California sites, and
- Unlimited in-person and email support to ensure program success.
- Community Resources and Project Tools, including
- Identification and coordination of field trips and internships;
- Volunteer partnerships
- Computer tool kit, flash drives, name badges and lanyards; and
- Recruitment, advertising, and content-related posters and stickers.
Online Curriculum & Resources: Our standards-based curriculum provides hands-on learning opportunities, projects and contests to engage students in creative applications of technology and expose them to a wide range of tech-based careers and areas of study. A variety of curriculum modules teach students the hardware and software skills they need to become the tech-support team at their school. As students take on this important role, they gain valuable 21st century workplace skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, communications and teamwork.
MOUSE continually updates and enhances its online curriculum. For instance, new coding and programming modules include App design, HTML coding, and “Specialist Certifications” in Garage Robotics (students explore physical computing using Arduino programming language) and Serious Games (students create an educational game to address real-world social challenges using Scratch).
Instructor/Coordinator Training and Support: MOUSE instructors attend an all-day training on MOUSE curriculum and program implementation. In addition, each spring MOUSE holds a year-end Professional Development Summit wherein instructors share best practices. MOUSE Program Specialists regularly visit and communicate with groups to offer support with project ideas, trouble-shooting logistical issues, coordinating volunteers and setting up field trips.
Community Resources and Project Tools: An integral component of our program are the volunteers we recruit from local technology companies who mentor students, assist them with MOUSE’s online curriculum, host field trips and provide students with an understanding of STEM career pathways. Over half our schools have volunteers engaging with students weekly, teaching them how technology can be applied professionally and inspiring them to pursue a future in STEM. Students take fieldtrips to locations such as EA, Cisco, IBM, The Computer History Museum and the Tech Museum, which teaches them how their MOUSE skills can be used in the real-world.
MOUSE’s Student Tech Leadership program has a proven track record of success. According to 2014 evaluation survey results:
- 99% of MOUSE students reported an improvement in their overall technology skills;
- 90% reported an improvement in learning how to program/code (e.g. apps, operating systems, webpages, etc.);
- 71% reported improvement in their project-related skills (e.g. problem-solving, leadership, collaboration); and
- 54% reported increase in their overall interest in technology related jobs/careers.
MOUSE has been honored with the STEM Benchmark Award in Technology from the Silicon Valley Education Foundation and was recognized by the California After School Network in 2012 as an “exemplary after-school STEM program.”.
It is no secret that our workforce faces a critical shortage of STEM professionals. Today, it’s estimated that as many as 33% of all jobs in Silicon Valley require a high degree of STEM knowledge. By 2018, California will have a total of 1.1 million STEM jobs, representing 6% of all jobs in the state (Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce). It is predicted that 49% percent of those STEM jobs will be in computer occupations, including technicians, programmers, and scientists (Association of Computer Machinery). With women making up 50% and Hispanic/Latinos 38% of California’s population, it is imperative these groups are given equal access to tech industry jobs. By collaborating with our corporate, community, and education partners, MOUSE is helping to ensure more women and underrepresented minorities are able to fully participate in the 21st century workforce.