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“I learned that anything is possible!”

As part of an ongoing partnership with the United Nations International Computing Centre (UNICC), the Career Design Lab (CDL) last month hosted the International Girls in ICT (Information and Communications Technology) Day 2023. The UN celebrates the day every year to inspire and empower young women in middle school to consider careers in information and communication technologies (ICT). The goal: bolster economies through greater female participation in ICT. 

Students at the event participated in design thinking exercises and discussions and learned about the Columbia SPS Youth in STEM Initiative and HBCU Fellowship Program. The Columbia SPS Youth in STEM Initiative aims to build a more inclusive STEM talent infrastructure by providing access to mentorship and resources to students underrepresented in STEM careers. The Columbia HBCU Fellowship Program contributes full-tuition scholarships, housing, and stipends to high-achieving HBCU graduates to earn master’s degrees at SPS. 

“Columbia SPS is honored to enlist partners such as the New York City Mayor’s Office, the United Nations International Computing Centre [UNICC], and the United Nations International Telecommunication Union [ITC] as we continue to pursue the Fourth Purpose of the University,” said Zelon Crawford, Senior Associate Dean of Student Affairs at Columbia SPS. “We hope that as the Girls in ICT Day students progress in their education, they will consider the myriad of career development, support, and mentorship opportunities available at Columbia SPS.”

The Girls in ICT Day activities were facilitated by Lee Kim, cofounder and community designer of Identity Lab and cofounder and community builder of the Design Dream Lab—and Dr. Joann Halpern, the director of the Hasso Plattner Institute. In addition to the UNICC and CDL, event partners included the Office of the Mayor of the City of New York; the United Nations International Telecommunication Union (ITU); the Columbia SPS Youth in STEM Initiative; and the Columbia HBCU Fellowship Program.

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, who led a concurrent event in Zimbabwe for more than 1,000 girls, said, “I want every young woman and girl to know that the tech world needs you. We’ve got a lot of work to do. But you are not alone. A whole community of women have blazed the trail before you, and we’re eager to support and mentor you along the way. This is what #GirlsInICT Day is all about!”

During the event, middle school girls from across New York City, student mentors, and workshop leaders worked in small groups to design, prototype, and test solutions for challenges that women may face in accessing STEM information and resources. The students presented their designs to their peers, providing them an opportunity to practice public speaking and exchange ideas.  

“The Columbia SPS Career Design Lab is thrilled to host the 2023 International Girls in ICT Day,” said Nicole Arndt,​​ associate director at the CDL. “This marks the third formal collaboration between the CDL and the United Nations International Computing Centre, signaling our shared commitment to developing students with leadership skills to unlock innovation and potential for the future. The CDL is a unique space where new ideas and partnerships in service of the future of work are incubated. We look forward to seeing the next generation of girls in ICT careers take action.”

Said Dr. Cosmas Luckyson Zavazava​, director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU): “On Girls in ICT Day and all year round, let’s take a step towards closing the gender digital divide by providing girls with the digital skills they need to succeed in the digital age.”

Domenica Yepez, student at Liberty Avenue Middle School, added: “I learned that anything is possible! If you really put your mind to it, you can do it! There is nothing holding you back, only yourself!”