With a new leader at its helm, IT-oLogy plans to expand its education programs to reach children all the way down to the pre-school level and teach girls that it’s OK to be a tech “nerd.”
Additionally, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit collaboration of businesses, academic institutions and other organizations dedicated to growing the IT talent pipeline and advancing the profession, has revamped programs aimed at helping teachers adapt technology in the classroom.
“We wanted to ramp up education programs at all levels — from schoolchildren to adult career changers,” said Tammy Mainwaring, who was named president of IT-oLogy earlier this year. “We want to develop a new direction and core programs.”
Founded in 2008 with the backing of BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, IBM and the University of South Carolina, the organization sought to raise awareness of the Palmetto State’s need to grow a pipeline of IT talent.
According to Indeed, an online job network, S.C. employers are currently seeking to fill 3,000 full-time IT jobs.
Mainwaring joined IT-oLogy in February 2016 as chief operating officer, succeeding Lonnie Emard. She was recruited by Lola Jordan, president of Companion Data Services, a BlueCross subsidiary that operates a health information data center that processes more than 1 billion claims daily.
Jordan, a member of IT-oLogy board, tapped Mainwaring, who was the information systems training manager at Companion Data, because of her education background, which included 22 years at the S.C. Department of Education as manager for instructional technology.
Mainwaring was named interim president in November, and the interim label was removed Feb. 8.
For Mainwaring, the IT-oLogy job brings her back to her initial calling to be a teacher.
Her first experience with computers was in the 1990s when she taught fifth grade in Cheraw. Mainwaring said she was the teacher on the hall who was an early adapter of computer technology.
In those days, before iPhones and Facebook, Mainwaring learned how to use Excel spreadsheets to track and calculate students’ grades. Then she taught fellow teachers how to use Excel, sparing them from hours of calculations.
Next, Mainwaring left for Australia, where she earned a degree in management of information technology, acquired various IT-related certifications, and returned to South Carolina and joined the Education Department.
Among the new programs IT-oLogy plans to launch this year is one for children in pre-K through second grade. Age-appropriate technology — hands-on things they can manipulate — will be used to get the kids interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The IT-oLogy staff also plans to focus on growing the number of women entering the computer science field, Mainwaring said. But she said that will involve countering the forces of pop culture, which lead girls to believe it isn’t “cool” to be good at math and science.
One way to cut through the anti-tech maze is to show girls how they can apply technology outside of the classroom. For example, Mainwaring talked about a Spring Valley High School student who attached electronic sensors to boxing gloves to measure which punch had the most force. Another high schooler, she said, applied sensors to a tennis racket so she could measure the effectiveness and speed of different strokes in swatting a ball over the net.
“When I look at what they’re doing, the girls in high school who have stuck with it are just amazing,” Mainwaring said. “It takes perseverance. It takes a ‘I’m not going with the crowd, I’m going to force my own way’ mindset.”
For about six to seven months in 2016, IT-oLogy “went quiet for a while,” said Rachel Barnett, director of development, as staffers worked on a transitional plan designed to focus more on developing education and expanding educational programs.
“We’re back and we’ve got fantastic programs and a busy, busy year ahead of us,” Barnett said.
Training a future IT workforce
IT-oLogy has launched several new student programs for the year. Here’s a look at the lineup for this summer and the next school year:
The Regional Autonomous Robotics Circuit is a series of three robotics competitions throughout the year for students in grades 3-12 developed by the Cyber Innovation Center. The competitions build upon one another and allow students to showcase their STEM and cyber skills by competing against other students in their division (elementary, middle and high school) in a series of STEM and liberal arts challenges. RARC is a component of The S.C. Cyber Interstate, a partnership of the Cyber Innovation Center and IT-oLogy to provide teachers with professional development opportunities to transform their classrooms into 21st-century learning environments.
The Robotics Fundamentals workshop will introduce students to robotics and teach them the skills they need to program their robots to perform specific functions. The content will prepare them not only for RARC competitions but for other robotics competitions, as well.
CYBER FIELD TRIPS
IT-oLogy hosts elementary and middle school classes for delivery of IT enrichment content that aligns with Computer Science Teacher Association and S.C. Department of Education standards. Teachers or group leaders can schedule a cyber outing for their classes.
CYBER SUMMER CAMPS
Each summer, IT-oLogy hosts camps for early childhood, elementary, and middle school students. These provide hands-on experiences involving subjects like programming, robotics, virtual reality and more.
One Saturday morning each month from August through May, students in grades 3-12 experience hands-on cyber projects. Each Saturday features a different topic, allowing students to explore a variety of technology. Cyber Saturdays are held 9 a.m. until noon at IT-oLogy, 1301 Gervais St. Here’s the 2017-2018 school year schedule.
- Sept. 16, Robotics. Students will bring robotics projects to life using computer programming and Lego Mindstorms, BoeBot, mBot or Sphero robots.
- Oct. 14, App Inventor. App Inventor is an beginner’s introduction to programming and app creation that transforms the complex language of text-based coding into visual, drag-and-drop building blocks.
- Nov. 11, Python. Python offers an introduction to fundamental programming concepts. Python is concise, easy to read, and used in web development, software development and scientific applications.
- Dec. 9, Virtual Reality. Students will engage in virtual reality exploration and activities. With Google Expeditions and the Mattel ViewMaster VR Viewer, students will explore virtual trips from around the world, go underwater and visit outer space.
- Jan. 13, Snap. Students will develop games with 3-D models using a visual, drag-and-drop programming language.
- Feb. 3, Raspberry Pi. Students will explore computing and programming in languages like Scratch and Python. The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into a computer monitor or TV and uses a standard keyboard and mouse.
- March 10, Makerspace. Students discover their creative side and spark their imagination by exploring, crafting, hacking and tinkering using electronics, robotics and art materials.
- April 14, LilyPad. Students will create wearable e-textile technology utilizing electronics, crafts, sewing and code. LilyPad is designed to have large connecting pads to allow them to be sewn into clothing. They’re also washable.
- May 12, 2018, LittleBits. LittleBits consists of tiny circuitboards with simple, unique functions engineered to snap together with magnets. No soldering, no wiring, no programming, just snap and play.