White House names CompuGirls founder a Champion of Change

February 24, 2014

CompuGirls founder Kimberly A. Scott will be named a STEM Access Champion of Change at the White House during an event Feb. 26 to honor people who are working to support and accelerate STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) opportunities for African-American students, schools and communities.

Scott, a women and gender studies associate professor in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University, founded and leads CompuGirls. The program combines advanced computational skills learning with key areas of social justice to develop skills and interest among adolescent girls in technology and computer science. Kimberly A. Scott Download Full Image

Girls use technology as a tool through the program to address complex issues such as child abuse, indigenous language and culture loss, and gentrification. Starting as eighth-graders, girls who participate are from underserved school districts and are predominantly Hispanic, African-American and Native American.

“Being named a STEM Access Champion of Change is not only a distinct honor, but also an acknowledgement of the need to teach girls technological skills in an engaging and transformative way,” Scott said. “Bringing girls from underserved communities into the digital world ultimately will add intellectual diversity and talent to our country’s workforce.”

The Champions of Change program began in 2011 when President Barack Obama called for recognition of citizens doing extraordinary things at a local level. Champion of Change honorees are chosen through a rigorous nomination and selection process.

Scott saw the need for a program to teach girls advanced technological skills in 2007 when she started CompuGirls. At that time, just 10 percent of middle school girls rated the computer science profession as a “very good” choice for them, according to the National Science Foundation.

A new analysis of test-taking data, recently reported in Education Week, found that no female, African-American or Hispanic students took the Advanced Placement exam in computer science in Mississippi and Montana. Overall, of the 30,000 students who took the exam last year, less than 20 percent of those students were female.

A 2012 study by the National Center for Women and Information Technology reported that African-American and Hispanic women represent only 3 percent and 1 percent of the United States computing workforce. Native American women majoring in computer and information sciences represent less than 1 percent.

Part of the issue is that girls see programming or other technology careers as culturally irrelevant, not as a tool to reach their goals, Scott said. When they are engaged in social justice issues that are important to them, girls learn the technology as a means to build their projects.

By providing fun programs where participants learn the latest technologies in digital media, game development and virtual worlds, girls learn skills such as digital media production with photo editing software, documentary filmmaking, game design and simulations with Scratch, and virtual world creation with open-sim technology.

Self-esteem is boosted through the program, as Mitzi Vilchis discovered when she overcame a fear of making public presentations through the program.

“The culture in CompuGirls is really positive,” Vilchis said. “It was definitely challenging, but we all felt really empowered about our topics.”

CompuGirls allowed her to address domestic violence and taught her technological skills that gave her confidence to help others when they have a problem with computers – something she never would have done before. Currently a freshman at ASU, Vilchis is working toward a degree in secondary education and English.

Scott originally developed CompuGirls with support from the Arizona Community Foundation. Recently, the National Science Foundation awarded multiple large grants to bring the program to girls in school districts in the Phoenix-metro area, including at the Gila River Boys & Girls Club in Sacaton and Komatke, Ariz., part of the Gila River Indian Community. The program has since expanded to Colorado.

Scott is also co-leader of STEM For All, with Kevin Clark of George Mason University, that brings together a diverse group of researchers, practitioners, funding organizations and policy analysts to work on developing a forum where an interdisciplinary team shares knowledge and devises agendas and action items that lead to broadening understanding and pragmatic solutions for traditionally underserved students to enter and persist in STEM fields.

The School of Social Transformation is an academic unit in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Leaders discuss Arizona's new energy plan at Solar Summit

February 24, 2014

Policy leaders, industry partners and energy experts gathered at ASU SkySong Feb. 20 to discuss the future of solar energy in Arizona at Arizona Solar Summit IV. The event featured the first public unveiling of the state’s new master energy plan, “emPOWER Arizona: Executive Energy Assessment and Pathways.” Gov. Jan Brewer signed the executive order on Feb. 18, making it the state’s first comprehensive energy plan in more than 20 years.

The Arizona Solar Summit – hosted by Arizona State University LightWorks, ASU SkySong and the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, and sponsored by NRG – provided the first opportunity for the public to learn about the master plan. Leisa Brug, Brewer’s energy policy advisor and director of the Governor's Office of Energy Policy, led a panel discussion on the plan and its goals. Brug said that Arizona is already ahead of other states in terms of energy policy, and the new master plan will help the state continue to be a national leader in the field. William Harris, president and CEO of Science Foundation Arizona Download Full Image

“We’ll be a national model,” Brug said. “We see this as a tremendous way to buoy up our solar industry.”

The plan seeks to make Arizona a "collaboratory" of policy leaders, energy experts and universities.

“We have tremendous opportunity in this state,” said Gary Dirks, director of the ASU Global Institute of Sustainability and ASU Lightworks. “Arizona has excellent physical and intellectual assets to advance the new plan and make Arizona an energy leader.”

Arizona’s new energy plan wasn’t the only issue covered at the event. Brug’s was among several panels that touched on topics critical to the state’s solar industry, including the future of utility sector, carbon dioxide mitigation, energy efficiency in the built environment and more.

Keynote speaker William Harris, president and CEO of Science Foundation Arizona, encouraged the audience to get engaged with the issue of climate change. He illustrated the way carbon dioxide emissions have rapidly increased since the Industrial Revolution and expressed a need to optimize our current system, starting with K-12 education.

"People use this word ‘sustainability’ so often I don’t even know what it means,” Harris said. “I like how Charlie Bayless described it: ‘Treat the planet like you intend to stay.’ Get involved, stay involved and work with this issue."

The Arizona Solar Summit seeks to create meaningful change in the solar industry by bringing together solar experts in a variety of fields and creating networks of active participants in new solar technology, energy policy and forward-thinking innovations to reshape and revitalize Arizona’s energy markets. This year’s summit is part of the inaugural Walton Sustainability Solutions Festival, an ASU initiative that encourages and celebrates innovators, entrepreneurs and creative thinkers who seek to find solutions to sustainability challenges.

With more than 300 days of sunshine per year, access to high-quality public research institutions and a plethora of energy industry experts, Arizona is naturally poised to create a high-impact solar economy and be a global leader in solar energy.

For more information about the Arizona Solar Summit, visit azsolarsummit.org.