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Volume 8, Number 8: May 31, 2002

The DoIT Information Technology Academy: Bridging the Digital Divide

by Erica Rosch,
ITA Program Coordinator

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ITA Program Coordinator Erica RoschThe DoIT Information Technology Academy (ITA) is an innovative 4-year pre-college technology access and training program for under-served and disadvantaged minority students residing in the Greater Madison Metropolitan area. ITA's mission is to prepare students technically, academically, and personally to excel in today's information-based economy. Beyond the basic need to increase access to technology, our goals toward this end are to:

  • Increase the number of minority and disadvantaged students who successfully complete high school and go on to post-secondary education;
  • Increase the number of minority and disadvantaged students represented in information technology and related majors of study at the undergraduate and graduate levels
  • Prepare students for quality, competitive employment, entrepreneurship and leadership in information technology and related fields in their local communities and beyond;
  • Provide a model for effective technology education and outreach at the local and state level.

Through a community-based partnership with the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), and funding support from the UW-Madison PEOPLE Program (Pre-college Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence), ITA currently provides intensive technology training and academic support to 29 high school freshmen and sophomores in an effort to significantly expand their technological literacy and scholastic achievement. Through hands-on training, mentoring, tutoring, study skills seminars, leadership development, community service, and internship opportunities, students develop the knowledge and skills to increase their own, as well as their communities' access to technology while simultaneously building a solid academic record in preparation for competitive university admissions.

History

DoIT initiated planning of the Academy in the spring of 1999 in response to the University of Wisconsin-System's Plan 2008, a comprehensive strategic "blueprint" to increase and expand educational opportunity and diversity within the University's 26 statewide institutions. The Plan, released in May 1998, was developed with the input of over 3,000 constituents including students, academicians, business and community leaders, regents, legal authorities, state legislators, and state and national education organizations. Plan 2008 emphasizes the increased recruitment and retention of four targeted student populations in the State of Wisconsin who are significantly underrepresented in their enrollment representation within the UW-System; and disproportionately represented among the state's economically and educationally disadvantaged: African American, American Indian, Latino/Hispanic, and Southeast Asian.

With the assistance of the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), the Academy successfully recruited its first cohort of 17 students in May 2000, and hosted the first annual ITA Summer Technology & Pre-college Training Camp on July 17-28. First-year students continued their tech training and academic development through year-round, bi-weekly site trainings, special sessions, and via online forums using computers provided by the University of Wisconsin and a local donor.

Additionally, the ITA Tutoring Program was launched, utilizing UW-Madison undergraduate and graduate student volunteers, and ITA implemented a mentoring component, matching students with professional staff who provided an additional layer of support, encouragement, and technical guidance to students over the course of the year, and will continue to do so throughout the four years of the program. Students met with tutors twice weekly for direct help with course week, and communicated regularly with mentors through structured and informal activities held face-to-face and on-line. Likewise, parents are intimately involved in our efforts and receive training and support as well, particularly in academic planning and advocacy for the college-bound child.

The First Annual ITA Tech Showcase and Leadership Forum was hosted on the UW-Madison campus on May 23, 2001, and the event was covered by local newspapers and television news programs. Scheduled in conjunction with the UW-Madison's Distance Learning Symposium, students presented the projects they developed over the course of the year to UW faculty, staff, parents and students attending the event.

A second cohort of 14 students was recruited in the spring and the cycle began anew. Currently, we have two classes of students who are meeting regularly, following a rigorous academic and technical curriculum, while developing leadership skills by participating in ad-hoc student governance committees. An academic case manager tracks student grades, progress in school, and works one-on-one with the students to create study schedules and obtain tutoring. Contact hours during the school year is estimated at 120, with the summer session at 70 hours.

An ITA student receives a computer donated by Hewlett-Packard.Our student body is composed of 14 females and 15 males, all but two of whom belong to the ethnic minorities the program is designed to serve. The other two students come from low-income families in the Madison area. The Advisory Board reflects the diversity of the students in its composition: five members are female and three are male; three are African-American, two are Hispanic, one is South-East Asian, and two are Caucasian.

In continuation of our principal mission, and to build upon the initial success and excitement the Academy has generated in this short time, DoIT-ITA will expand its outreach to an additional cohort of 15 students for the 2002-03 program year (June 1, 2002-May 30th, 2003), bringing our total Academy enrollment to 46 students. In keeping with a prior agreement the PEOPLE Program, DoIT will incorporate 15-20 students into our 3rd Annual ITA Tech Training Camp.

Needs Addressed

Several recent state and local reports have documented a host of disturbing factors impacting the educational plight of local minority and disadvantaged students. These reports have confirmed the disproportionate representation of local minority students, in particular, among low-achieving and underachieving students, resulting in the proliferation of the term " the achievement gap" which has become woefully synonymous with "minority student achievement". Of particular concern within this malady is the persistent disparity in academic achievement and high school graduation rates of students of color and their majority peers.

This gap, which has gained increasing attention and concern on a local and national level over the past decade, has resulted in a disproportionate number of students of color failing to successfully complete four years of high school, or graduate with the necessary credentials to earn scholarships and admissions to selective institutions like the UW-Madison. Current Madison School District and Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction data indicate that while white students graduate from high school at a rate of 97%, students from other groups do not fare as well: 91% of Asian students graduate, 78% of American Indian students graduate; 69% of Hispanic students; and only 55% of African American students graduate (and less than 40% of African American students graduate on time). It is important to note that the vast majority of Asian American students not graduating are Southeast Asian students (Hmong, Laotian, Vietnamese, Cambodian) who are as a group more likely than their other Asian peers to be low-income, with a very limited history of formal education.

Likewise, 1999-2000 University of Wisconsin (UW), Madison Schools, and State of Wisconsin data indicate that while students of color comprised 8% of all 1999-00 UW Institution undergraduate enrollments, they comprised 19% of all public school enrollments in the State of Wisconsin, 34% of K-12 enrollments in the City of Madison, and 73% of Madison's low-income student population. Madison campus figures were similar, revealing that of 28,274 undergraduates enrolled in fall 1999, 2,585 (or 9%) were ethnic minorities.

In addition to their low matriculation rates to University of Wisconsin institutions and other state institutions of higher learning, data also indicates a sharp gap in the number of minority students participating in competitive majors that increasingly require advanced proficiency in the use and manipulation of information, computer-based, and engineering technologies. In 1998-99, only 45 of 669 degrees conferred in 12 select fields, including Computer Science (8), Applied Mathematics, Engineering, and Physics (0), Chemical Engineering (10), Civil Engineering (5), Electrical Engineering (10), Mechanical and several other engineering disciplines (12), were conferred to students of color (7%). In fact, in addition to white student enrollments/graduations (523), the International student enrollment/ graduation rate (93) exceeded those of resident minority students in these degree programs.

These data, and a host of other data too lengthy to include, clearly demonstrate the compelling need to provide and expand high quality pre-college interventions to local minority and disadvantaged youth that provide them with access and preparation for higher education and competitive careers. We need to increase their capacity to act as productive, self-sufficient, and engaged citizens in their communities.

In an effort to meet this need, and to ameliorate the concurrent obstacle of technological access to our target groups, ITA offers a three-pronged focus on technological literacy, academic preparation, and mentoring/professional development to comprehensively and proactively equip students. To their parents, we mentor critical skills, support, and experiences necessary for both short and long-term success. ITA graduates will leave the Academy in four years with the confidence, knowledge, and skills for rigorous academic study at our institution, or for immediate entry into a competitive IT career of his or her choice. The creation and availability of these options for students, we believe, is the keystone of ITA's success.

Of the approximately 120 contact hours of the academic year program (excluding summer), some 60 hours are spent in technical training labs where students learn a variety of technical ITA students practicing their computer skills.skills, including web design and development, Perl CGI programming, upgrading PCs, graphic design, digital audio and video, networking, and e-commerce fundamentals. Another 20 hours are spent in study groups or with tutors while on campus. 14 hours are spent in academic seminars, focusing on study skills (9th grade), standardized test preparation (10th grade), leadership development (11th grade), and pre-college topics (12th grade). Finally, approximately 26 hours are spent in small and large-group activities, including campus tours, guest speakers, student governance committees, job shadowing, mentor-mentee meetings, and community service work. A 3-week summer residential internship is planned for rising 11th graders, and an external (paid) internship is planned for rising 12th graders.

Students successfully completing all requirements of the ITA program, and who are admitted to an undergraduate degree program at the UW-Madison, will be awarded 5-year tuition grants, paid for by the PEOPLE program.

ITA is sponsored by DoIT, with major funding from the PEOPLE Program, the Evjue Foundation, and the Foundation for Madison's Public Schools. For the complete list of sponsors, see the ITA Web page at http://ita.wisc.edu/.

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