2012 Information Technology Academy
|Left: The graduates and staff of ITA
Above: Michelle McKiernan (l) and Erica Laughlin
of the ITA staff.
By Jonathan Gramling
For the past 12 years, the Information Technology Academy (ITA) of the UW Dept. of Information Technology has been assisting
students of color bridge the digital divide as they prepare for the next level in their educational careers. During their high school
careers, the students receive academic support and learn how to use information technology and apply it to their academic and
ITA’s mission has always been to assist the neediest of students in the area of IT and they have remained true to that mission.
“Kids come in with a variety of skill levels,” said Erica Laughlin, director of ITA. “We’ve had kids who are very text savvy and kids
with virtually no technical expertise. And in the schools, some have had keyboarding. But keyboarding is not what this is about. Part
of the selection process is we are looking at increasing access. We try to get kids in who don’t have a lot of tech access. That
means we are trying to start kids out who haven’t had a lot of that. Although some kids may have had some video gaming
experience, that is not what we are teaching anyway. So we really do start at the very beginning for a lot of kids. We’re trying to stay
true to our mission. That mission really is about expanding access and that digital divide still exists with our poorest communities.
That’s what we are all about.”
Over the course of the four years, some students may move away from Madison or develop other interests. For instance the 2012
graduating cohort had 20 of the original students remaining when ITA held its graduation celebration June 2 at the Lowell Center on
the UW-Madison campus. And those students have come a long ways since they started the program.
“All of our students are high achieving and they are all college-bound,” Laughlin said. “All 20 of our students will be going to
institutions of higher education in the fall. ITA has always had a very high percentage of students attending college, 99 percent out of
138 to date. I believe about a third of our graduates will attend UW-Madison in the fall. Our students are folded into the PEOPLE
Scholars Program and they receive the PEOPLE scholarship.”
One might think that coming from ITA that the students would major in computer science. But that is not the case as IT is a means by
which the students have pursued their education and not an ends unto itself.
“Some of our students end up majoring in STEM fields, but really our graduates’ interests span all different disciplines,” Laughlin
observed. “Some of our students major in social work, STEM fields, linguistics and pre-law. There is just a wide variety of fields. We
probably have a slightly larger number of students majoring in the STEM disciplines than other fields.”
Over the course of their tenure at ITA, the students form close bonds with the program and with each other. One graduate went on to
become the first PEOPLE Scholar to be enrolled at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. And although she is finishing up her
first year of medical school, she is still working at ITA.
“The kids are so talented that they continue to amaze me and my staff,” Laughlin said. “Two-thirds of our instructional/technical staff
are now program graduates. They have significant buy-in and investment in the program. They come up with things I could have ever
come up with on my own. They have made this program into something that continues to amaze me and is cutting edge. It is just
fabulous. I think it is a great thing.”
While the digital divide may be hampering many people of color from entering the 21st century labor market, the students of ITA have
stepped over the divide and are now on the path to higher education and beyond.