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Female high school students gaining information technology skills

About half of CISCO-founded IT program’s students are girls at Fairmount Heights

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Published on: Friday, May 03, 2013

By Tauren Dyson

In 1997, information technology company CISCO Systems established the Network Academy at 10,000 locations, in 165 countries around the globe. The company’s goal was to prepare students with a foundation in IT skills that will help them succeed in today’s technologically advanced world. Since then, the program has instructed more than four million people globally, but only 17 percent of them were female.   

At Fairmount Heights High School in Capitol Heights, the percentage of the girls participating in Network Academy is approximately 50 percent of 67 students, overall.

“There is such a low number of girls in technology today,” said Blair Christie, CISCO chief marketing officer. “It’s a problem we need to fix.”

April 25 marked Girls in ICT Day, a worldwide event designed to get more young women involved in the information computer technology field.

According to the National Center for Women in Technology, there has been a sharp drop in the number of women in the United States working in computing occupations. In 1991, women accounted for 38 percent of the computing workforce; in 2009, they made up only 25 percent.

Eileen Nkwain wants to bump those numbers up a bit. At 15, she already has her A+ certification, an accomplishment that qualifies her to be a computer technician. But taking classes with the Network Academy has had a positive impact on some of her other classes.

“It’s helped me in other subjects,” Nkwain said. “With this, it’s like you can never give up, and that helps in other areas, just to keep working.”

But her goals extend beyond computer repair. Nkwain views IT as a gateway to other career paths.

“It’s made me see there are so many options of what you can do,” Nkwain said. “Since IT goes into a lot of fields, I want to go into law and psychology.”

Ashley Covington finished the program and her high school career in 2006. Today she works as a system administrator for Baltimore City Public Schools.

Back then, only five girls participated in the Network Academy at her Baltimore high school. She was shocked and amazed to have a sea of female faces staring back at her on Wednesday at Fairmount Heights.

There are currently 59 Network Academy sites throughout Maryland.

Covington came to speak to the students at the Fairmont Heights site to show the girls exactly what a Network Academy finished product looks like. Also she wants to push the students to complete the program no matter how rigorous the curriculum may get.

“Do a lot of research, no matter what technology you like best at first.” Covington said in a statement on the CISCO website. “Motivate yourself to pursue this thoroughly, despite the challenges, because it’s worth it.” 

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