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.

Journalism alum wins prestigious business reporting award

February 24, 2014

Less than a year after graduating, an alumnus of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University is part of a reporting team that has won the prestigious George Polk Award for Business Reporting.

Lauren Kyger, a 2013 Cronkite School graduate, was named along with Alison Fitzgerald, Daniel Wagner and John Dunbar of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organization based in Washington, D.C. heashot of Lauren Kyger Download Full Image

The award honors the team’s expose, “After the Meltdown,” which examined the failure of regulators to hold major Wall Street players accountable for the reckless behavior that ignited an economic recession. The series probed the role of subprime lenders, banks and government regulators responsible for the crash five years after the fact.

Kyger interned at the center following her graduation last May and helped research and write stories on former Bear Stearns mortgage executives and government regulators such as Christopher Cox, the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“The internship was an incredible experience and I am proud to have worked on such an impactful series,” Kyger said. “This is an award that Walter Cronkite won at one point in his career, and to be mentioned in the same breath means more than words can describe.”

Kyger was among the 30 recipients from 15 news organizations to receive a 2013 Polk Award, which will be presented in New York on April 11. This fall, she will begin a two-year master’s program in global business journalism at Tsinghua University in Beijing through the Hinrich Global Trade China Fellowship Program.

"As an excellent Cronkite business journalism student, Lauren continually tackled major business and international issues," said Reynolds Chair Andrew Leckey, a Fulbright Scholar teaching in China this semester. "Achieving this Polk Award as an intern and her upcoming fellowship in China dramatize the remarkable career trajectory of this talented young journalist."

Steve Doig, Knight Chair in Journalism at the Cronkite School, won a 2011 George Polk Award for his work with California Watch, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization. Doig and his California Watch colleagues Christina Jewett and Lance Williams were honored for a yearlong series of articles that exposed a pattern of suspicious Medicare billing at Prime Healthcare Services, a California-based hospital chain.

Established in 1949, the George Polk Awards are given each year by Long Island University to honor special achievements in journalism. The awards place a premium on investigative and enterprise reporting that gains attention and achieves results. The Polk Awards commemorate George Polk, a CBS correspondent murdered in 1948 while covering the Greek Civil War.

The Center for Public Integrity is one of the country’s oldest and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organizations. Established in 1989, it was founded to serve democracy by revealing abuses of power, corruption and betrayal of public trust by powerful public and private institutions.