Advocating for Women in Technology iSchool Showcase

Sowmya Sadhasivam spent months working on her project: a digital display using an array of Kindles that aims to recreate the look of a physical bookshelf.

As e-books continue to gain popularity, Sadhasivam believed something was being lost: the ability to browse someone's collection of books displayed on a shelf in a home or office. Books, she said, can tell a lot about a person. So she began working on a digital bookshelf that could be mounted on a wall and controlled wirelessly and allow users to highlight a book and browse through it with a mobile device - the same way someone might pull a physical book from a shelf and flip through the pages.

Our female students are taking the lead by encouraging each other to get involved, to learn from others and ultimately to become sufficiently skilled to play an active and leading role across the information professions...the AWIT group are leaders who embody the spirit of the iSchool.

--Dean Andrew Dillon

Last month, the first-year student, had the opportunity to share the details of her project with students and faculty - and hear about the work other students were doing - at the AWIT (Advocating for Women in Technology) iSchool Showcase.

As Sadhasivam fielded questions and suggestions about her digital bookshelf, something occurred to her: "People wouldn't have known about my work if not for this."

That's one of the reasons Marcia McIntosh, a second-year student and AWIT committee member, was so determined to create the event.

"If I you don't take certain classes with certain people you don't find out what people are doing," she said.

McIntosh and other committee members of AWIT - the student chapter of the Associaiton for Information Science and Technology - hatched the idea for a showcase last spring. After securing a $1,000 Student Seed Fund grant (sponsored by Symantec) from the National Center for Women and Information Technology, the committee began advertising the event and encouraging students to participate.

The publicity caught the attention of Ann Clark, an information analyst at ConocoPhillips, who offered to speak at the showcase. She shared with students her experiences and projects involving information science in the oil industry.

In all, the event featured nine presentations by 11 iSchool students and one graduate student from the Jackson School of Geosciences, McIntosh said.

Featured projects included an app that locates emergency medical facilities, an analysis of gender-based harassment and social media and a website that helps older adults find health information.

With a standing room only crowd, the energy at the showcase was palpable. Audience members were buzzing with questions: What class did you learn THAT in? How did you get that internship? You can design apps in that class?

McIntosh said the showcase was particularly beneficial to newer students.

"It offers an insight into our field of study that you don't initially get your first year or your first semester," she said. "It broadens your perspective on what's possible."

And, of course, the raison d'etre of AWIT is to highlight what is possible for women in particular - a mission iSchool Dean Andrew Dillon says is critical given that information technology fields are still male-dominated.

"Our female students are taking the lead by encouraging each other to get involved, to learn from others and ultimately to become sufficiently skilled to play an active and leading role across the information professions," Dillon said. "The AWIT group are leaders who embody the spirit of the iSchool."