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Champion of Change

November 11, 2014

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She calls herself a professional feminist. The young women she mentors refer to her as their career fairy godmother. The White House last year named her a Champion of Change.

Each label is a well-earned source of satisfaction for Board of Alumni member Ruthe Farmer B.A. ’92. As the chief strategy and growth officer for the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) and the former national manager of technology and engineering education for Girl Scouts of the USA, Farmer has dedicated her career to aggressively expanding opportunities for girls in technology.

“It’s what we call a BHAG,” says Farmer,“a big hairy audacious goal. If women make up 57 percent of the people earning college degrees, but only 18 percent of the people earning degrees in computer and information sciences, just do the math and you can see that we have a problem.”

Farmer traces her roots as a feminist back to her college days at Lewis & Clark. A student of communications, German, and art, she found herself one semester in Jean Ward’s Rhetoric of Women class. “I was shocked, as a sophomore in college, to be learning the history of women in America for the first time,” she says. “I’d never even heard of most of the women we were studying. Why were they missing from my K-12 education?”

Her Lewis & Clark education ultimately set her on the path to becoming a real agent for change. Farmer is the driving force behind Aspirations in Computing, an NCWIT program for high school girls with aptitude and interest in computing. Last year, some 2,200 students applied, and nearly 1,400 awardees—including 38 from Oregon and southwestern Washington—were presented with awards and inducted into the Aspirations in Computing community.

And last July, Farmer was honored by the White House as one of 11 Champions of Change for Tech Inclusion as part of President Obama’s initiative to better prepare American graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.

“I want women and girls to have access to the jobs that pay well and that give them independence and freedom,” she says. “I also want to live in a world that is created with the representation and participation of the entire population. The technical world that we all experience today is largely created without the input of women and minorities.”

Read the rest of “Champion of Change” by Ellisa Valo from the Spring 2014 edition of The Chronicle Magazine.

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