ALAMEDA -- The National Science Foundation has awarded approximately $900,000 to an Alameda-based organization that works to boost enrollment and retention of women in science, technology and math programs at community colleges nationwide.
The Institute for Women in Trades, Technology and Science, based at Ballena Bay, is led by founder and Executive Director Donna Milgram, an Alameda resident who brought the group to the Island 15 years ago from Washington, D.C.
"A friend suggested Alameda, right after we had received a large National Science Foundation grant, our second one," Milgram said. "I was looking for a place in Northern California and fell in love with it."
Fortunately for Milgram, an office tenant in the Ballena Isle Marina complex was trimming down its operations. The harbor master at the time, Jack Bollinger, helped Milgram set up shop.
"Alameda is so welcoming. I felt instant support from the community," she said. "I was soon invited to judge the lighted boat parade during the holidays."
In addition to Milgram, there are three staff members, two training consultants and two individuals who mainly work off-site for the Institute for Women in Trades, Technology and Science (IWITTS).
"These are people who have been with me and the organization for a long time," she said.
The participation of women in many science and technology professions is under 15 percent, and one way to improve that figure is by raising the number of graduates from two-year degree programs in cutting-edge technical fields like computer science, nanotechnology and mechatronics.
"We have to bring in and keep female students," Milgram said. "There are amazing programs that prepare students for emerging industries with good careers and starting salaries, but the number of women enrolled in these programs has been falling."
IWITTS, she said, "has a demonstrated track record" in raising the number of women and the retention of both women and men.
For instance, at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen, Texas, the level of female recruits for one program has grown from 11 percent to 37 percent.
The Alameda-based group works with schools to strengthen their outreach, teaching skills and learning methods, so that women find scientific and technical programs more appealing. This effort includes steps such as including photos of female students and professionals in school brochures, so potential recruits "see female role models," Milgram said.
IWITTS also emphasizes the use of an online assessment tool that lets colleges check whether they are using best practices for recruiting and retaining female students. Its efforts have earned it praise from many of the 1,000 schools it has worked with, as well as from local leaders.
"I am pleased that the Institute for Women in Trades, Technology and Science has been selected to receive this important and competitive funding," said U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, whose district covers Alameda, in a statement. "It is our obligation to ensure that young women are both encouraged and supported as they pursue studies and careers in STEM-related fields, so they are prepared to contribute and thrive in the economy of the future."