Montana State University

MSU computer science outreach featured on national website

April 10, 2017 -- Marshall Swearingen, MSU News Service

Sharlyn Izurieta, an outreach coordinator with the Gianforte School of Computing at Montana State University, talks with STEM students in Rachel White's science class at Belgrade High School, Thursday, March 2, 2017, in Belgrade, Mont. 
MSU Photo by Adrian Sanchez-GonzalezGrace Wakulski, a sophomore majoring in computer science at Montana State University, talks with STEM students in Rachel White's science class at Belgrade High School, Thursday, March 2, 2017, in Belgrade, Mont. 
MSU Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez

Sharlyn Izurieta, an outreach coordinator with the Gianforte School of Computing at Montana State University, talks with STEM students in Rachel White's science class at Belgrade High School, Thursday, March 2, 2017, in Belgrade, Mont. MSU Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez

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An outreach program at Montana State University has been featured on the website of a national organization that encourages women to pursue careers in computing professions.

The MSU chapter of Sit With Me, a campaign of the National Center for Women and Information Technology, is one of seven displayed prominently on a website for the campaign. More than 170 of NCWIT’s 640 member organizations and universities have participated in the campaign, according to NCWIT campaigns manager Casey Sanders.

“I am happy that our program has been recognized,” said Sharlyn Izurieta, an outreach coordinator for the Gianforte School of Computing in MSU’s College of Engineering. “It helps show people that what we’re doing is part of a larger effort.”

According to Sanders, Sit With Me chose to feature MSU’s campaign in order to recognize Izurieta’s leadership and to highlight MSU’s growing outreach efforts, which include engagement with high school classes in the Gallatin Valley.

Members of the national Sit With Me campaign use a red chair as a prop to encourage discussion about the importance of women in technology, with a focus in computing. According to NCWIT, women accounted for only 25 percent of employees in computing occupations in 2015.

“There were more women majoring in computer science in 1984 than there are now,” Izurieta told a class of 21 students in an upper-level science and technology class at Belgrade High School in March. She noted that more than 37 percent of undergraduate computer science majors were women that year, compared to only around 16 percent in recent years.

With the organization’s signature red chair displayed before the class, Izurieta, along with Grace Walkuski, a sophomore majoring in computer science at MSU, engaged with students in a discussion about what computing professionals and students do, and the need for greater diversity within the field.

The reality of computing in the classroom and the workplace is different from stereotypes, Walkuski told the students. “Computer scientists can work in basically any field they want” and collaborate with artists, scientists and product designers to solve problems, she added.

Walkuski played a video of a theatrical performance called iLuminate, in which dancers wear colorful lights that flash in sync with their movements and the music. The artistic technology was designed by Miral Kotb, who fused her passions for dance and computer programming, Walkuski said.

Walkuski also showcased several high-level female computer scientists and innovators whom she said have served as her role models.

“I had no idea the CEO of YouTube was a woman,” said Rachel White, the instructor of the Belgrade class that included sophomores, juniors and seniors.

The presentation at Belgade High School was one of several outreach events that MSU Sit With Me has hosted in 2016. The group has hosted similar events at Bozeman High School and Headwaters Academy of Bozeman.

Izurieta has a goal of expanding the program throughout the state, and the events in the Gallatin Valley this year are intended to help the group develop classroom materials that teachers at those schools could use.

“We’re reaching out to rural communities,” she said. “Our hope is to promote this statewide starting next year.”

Contact: Sharlyn Izurieta, sharlyn.izurieta@montana.edu, (406) 994-4794.