Sisterhood, empowerment, and tech: U-M hosts inaugural GET-IT event

  • Author and inspirational speaker Liz Murray
    Author and inspirational speaker Liz Murray's keynote address described her journey “From Homeless to Harvard.” (Joel Iverson, ITS Communications)

More than three hundred girls from nine southeast Michigan high schools visited the University of Michigan for the inaugural GET-IT summit on Tuesday, October 1, at the Michigan League. The event gave female students the opportunity to connect with other women and girls who have an interest in the tech industry. 

Diane Jones, executive director of ITS administration, co-created and helped plan the summit. She said one of her goals with the event was to help students realize the opportunities they have access to. “I wanted K-12 students, students from public schools, to see what is possible and to view a life that is past their front porch and neighborhoods,” Jones said. “When they leave U-M’s campus today, they will know that anything is possible if that’s what they want.”

The major themes of the day were sisterhood, empowerment, and belonging. Many of the speakers and panelists encouraged and validated the attendees’ interest in the tech industry, in which women make up only 20% of the workforce.

“When they leave U-M’s campus today, they will know that anything is possible.”

Diane Jones, Executive Director of ITS Administration

“It’s all about STEM, it’s all about sisterhood, it’s all about education, and the bright future we’re going to build for each other,” Andrew Humphrey, Local 4 News meteorologist and host of the show “Tech Time,” told the girls at the start of the day.

Liz Murray, best selling author and co-founder and executive director of The Arthur Project, served as the day’s keynote speaker. She encouraged the girls to own their futures and be their own heroes. “You’re going to encounter a lot of people, if you haven’t already, who are going to tell you what to do with your life,” she said. “No one knows what’s possible until you’re already doing it. Don’t you ever let anyone tell you what’s possible. […] Cynicism is the atrophy of your imagination and heart. You’re more creative than that.”

Murray’s message of positivity, agency, and belonging carried through the rest of the day as IT professionals hosted panels and talks on technological innovations, careers, and education options. Female tech professionals from companies such as Ford Motor Company and Flagstar spent the day connecting with the students and sharing their experiences.

“I feel like tech is for me.”

Zhaneen Soto, a freshman at Regina High School

That message came through to self-identified “nerds,” like Elizabeth Spiczzi, a junior at Regina High School in Warren, MI. She liked that the focus of the event was on empowering women and girls. “[Attending] makes me feel more confident,” Spiczzi said. “Like, hey, I’m not a weirdo!”

The support from tech companies resonated with Aadya Doma, a junior from Salem High School, Canton, MI. “It’s good that [tech companies] are promoting women in technology,” Doma said. “[This event] is important because there aren’t a lot of women in tech, they’re underrepresented.”

Zhaneen Soto, a freshman at Regina High School, was also impressed with the support from companies and industry professionals. “These companies aren’t afraid to support the cause of young women realizing what they want to do in the future,” she said. Soto said she was encouraged to pursue her passion, coding, after attending the event. “I feel like tech is for me.”

“One of the benefits of this event is giving young girls access to an extremely successful role model who can help inspire them and give them confidence.”

Chris Rydzewski, Executive Director of MCWT

GET-IT (Girls Exploring Together Information Technology) is an after school high school program run by the Michigan Council of Women in Technology (MCWT). The summit brought girls from participating school’s to U-M’s campus with the help of ITS, LSA, and volunteers from U-M’s Women in IT Community of Practice (WiTCOP) and across the university.

Regina High School added the GET-IT program to their curriculum a year ago. Rosemary Michels, the school’s STEM director, said working with MCWT and providing the program helps her students have a “meaningful experience” with technology. “One of our goals is to be a STEM-certified school,” Michels said. “We are working with teachers and students to create programs that will expose [students] to future career opportunities and build their skills to be successful in college and beyond.”

Skill-building is oftentimes a question of access to role models, as Chris Rydzewski, the executive director of MCWT, noted. “One of the benefits of this event is giving young girls access to an extremely successful role model who can help inspire them and give them confidence,” she said. “We want to help them know they can dream big and overcome anything that comes their way.”