Six eighth-grade girls from North Allegheny spent part of a recent school day in conversation with girls from North Point High School, a science and technology school in Waldorf, Md.
The girls compared their school days, talking as if they were in the same room rather than 172 miles apart, as part of Cisco Systems Inc.’s Girls IT Day last Thursday.
Patrick Berardinelli, territory account manager for the North Shore company, said the global company held 200 IT days between April 11 and 24. North Allegheny, the only local school to participate, was invited to the firm's corporate office in part because the district offers Cisco’s network academy in an intermediate high school class called “Inside Your Computer,” he said.
More than 40 eighth-grade girls from Carson, Ingomar and Marshall middle schools spent the day in Pittsburgh, learning about the use of technology in the work force, about leadership and meeting women who work in the technology field.
The goal of the event, said Karen Manning, systems engineering director, is to show girls that technology is a good career path for women.
“Technology isn’t just for the boys. It isn’t just for the men,” she said. “There are many, many women who could do well in technology. They are wired for it.”
Ms. Manning said that there is 28 percent growth in technology jobs. “Everything that we do has software. And everything that we do has hardware. And we need people who know how to work it.”
The girls saw some of that hardware and software, participating in Cisco’s Web X system for online meetings, high-definition teleconferencing and touring the company’s networking lab.
The joint venture with Cisco was one of multiple partnerships between the school district and corporate partners, said North Allegheny superintendent Raymond Gualtieri, who meets with local business leaders twice a year in a “business roundtable.”
“We wanted to kind of pull them into the fold,” he said. “People do come to the business roundtable. They are interested in the quality of student that we produce.”
He said partnerships are increasingly more important today, with tight budgets and school funding limited by state law. “You have to look for other avenues to do some of the projects that you want to do.”
Mr. Gualtieri said the Cisco partnership, along with a two-year, $35,000 a grant from the Alcoa Foundation, are aimed at getting more female students interested in STEM classes. Although the Alcoa grant is aimed at increasing participation in STEM-related Advanced Placement classes, the district is also focusing on increasing female participation.
“One of our concerns here in North Allegheny is that we have women or girls that are very interested in the sciences but, by the time they leave middle schools, they are in the arts and humanities,” he said.
Many of the girls who participated in the Cisco event said they were inspired by the technology field.
Allison Bergeron from Carson said what she learned at Cisco was really exciting. “I love technology, and I never knew about all this stuff. I always want to do anything with math or technology, and this shows you all the doors that there are.”
Samantha Maurer from Ingomar school said the Girls IT day was “inspiring. It is opening my horizons to what I can do.”
Yuri Tamana from Marshall school said she didn’t know anything about Cisco before attending the event, and enjoyed the video chat the most.
“I think technology is really cool. It is really amazing how modern innovations are made,” she said.
Makenna Romanelli of Ingomar enjoyed meeting the different women during the networking session.
“It’s really nice to learn about them and their jobs,” she said.
Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.