Cornell Tech women in tech program goes national

Cornell Tech’s Women in Technology & Entrepreneurship in New York (WiTNY), a partnership including the City University of New York that has increased representation of women in computing, will expand nationally with support from Pivotal Ventures, Cognizant U.S. Foundation and Verizon.

The program, which will now be known as Break Through Tech, will be replicated starting in Chicago as part of a $50 million investment in the new Gender Equality in Tech (GET) Cities Initiative by Pivotal Ventures.


Summer Guild

Magda Zofia/Provided

Participants in Cornell Tech’s Women in Technology & Entrepreneurship program at Microsoft in 2019.

“It’s critical that students from all backgrounds are equipped with the technological skills needed to tackle the world’s problems, and Cornell is committed to fostering diversity and gender equity,” said Greg Morrisett, the Jack and Rilla Neafsey Dean and Vice Provost of Cornell Tech. “The Break Through Tech initiative is an incredible model that has already made a huge impact in New York and will do so around the country. We are so grateful for this recognition from Melinda Gates’ Pivotal Ventures, Cognizant U.S. Foundation and Verizon to help us achieve our goals on a national scale.”

In New York City, Cornell Tech works with the City University of New York (CUNY) and industry partners to offer new introductory computer science courses and workshops that teach coding and emphasize technology’s real-world applications, with an eye toward recruiting and retaining women and other underrepresented groups in tech. During winter recess, three-week paid “winternships” provide freshman and sophomore women with resume credentials and industry experience that increase their chances of landing coveted summer tech internships.

The program also builds a community of women in computing through peer and mentoring networks.

“Year after year, WiTNY has made progress getting women at CUNY, the largest and most diverse urban public college system in the country, to pursue degrees and careers in tech,” said Judith Spitz, executive director of Cornell Tech’s Break Through Tech initiative. “So many of the students we work with never thought the tech industry had a place for them, and the program has been transformational in their lives.”

CUNY comprises 25 institutions across New York City, with an enrollment of more than 275,000 students; approximately 21% are Asian, 25% are black, 31% are Hispanic and 23% are white, according to 2018 statistics. Since WiTNY’s founding in 2016, the number of women graduating with bachelor’s degrees in computer science from CUNY has risen by 94%.

“We are proud to have developed this successful program working closely with Cornell, the city of New York and many corporate partners, and believe this is a tremendous opportunity for other public institutions around the country,” said CUNY Chancellor Felix V. Matos Rodriguez.

Following the WiTNY model, Break Through Tech will now partner with the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), a public research university whose computer science department, part of the university’s College of Engineering, has grown from 187 undergraduate students to more than 1,400 over the past 15 years.

“This partnership is an opportunity for the UIC College of Engineering to help change the face of computer science and tech in Chicago and nationally,” said Robert Sloan, professor and head of computer science at the UIC College of Engineering.

“The Break Through Tech initiative is an incredible model that has already made a huge impact in New York and will do so around the country.”

Greg Morrisett

Break Through Tech, with partner SecondMuse, another Pivotal beneficiary, will work with Pivotal’s GET Cities to increase the representation and leadership of women in tech through the development of inclusive tech hubs across the country.

“Break Through Tech and Pivotal Ventures share a common goal: to accelerate women’s power and influence in the U.S., especially in tech,” said Renee Wittemyer, Pivotal Ventures’ director of program strategy and investment. “Boosting representation of women in tech requires the work, investment and collaboration of many players in the tech ecosystem, and we are thrilled to have Break Through Tech’s innovative model to foster the coordination between companies, universities and nonprofits to scale change.”

Additionally, the initiative’s national expansion will be supported by investment from the Cognizant U.S. Foundation.

“I am so proud of WiTNY’s growth and success in New York, and am excited to support the initiative’s new expansion of Break Through Tech to new cities across the country,” said Kristen Titus, executive director of the Cognizant U.S. Foundation. “In expanding to tech hubs nationally, we believe that Break Through Tech will propel women and give them critical access to impactful careers in tech.”

Verizon, a founding partner of WiTNY, will also support the expansion.

“We’ve seen their progress and community impact firsthand,” said Justina Nixon-Saintil, director of corporate social responsibility at Verizon. “Driving innovation forward begins with having a diverse and inclusive workforce and we’re proud to support Break Through Tech’s efforts to enact social change.”

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