by Abbie Lundberg

How CIOs Can Help Kids See That IT Is Cool

Sep 15, 20063 mins
IT Leadership

Our Sept. 1 cover story dealt with the challenges of finding, training and retaining the talent you need for your evolving IT department. In it, General Motors CIO Ralph Szygenda said, “You’re going to be in trouble if you’re not working to get kids interested in IT.” Szygenda was talking about college kids but I think that’s already too late. As Phil Zwieg, VP of IS of Northwestern Mutual, said in the same story, “There’s much more work to do in the K-12 environment to encourage math and science, particularly with girls.” (For more on K-12 IT education, see “Computer Education’s Failing Grade,”

There are many ways to get kids excited about science and technology, but focusing purely on the business case—or even the technology—won’t work. Kids want to do what’s cool, and given some of the kid-driven stuff going on now (MySpace, YouTube, iTunes), it shouldn’t be too hard to engage them.Here are just a few things that CIOs and their companies can do to help.

Support science programming: Kids form their interests early on. My teenager got hooked on science by PBS’s Bill Nye the Science Guy back when she was just six or seven years old. Corporations helped fund the show.

Fund scholarships and grants: Raytheon ambitiously launched MathMovesU ( An annual $1 million grant goes toward classroom help for middle-school teachers and schools and scholarships for students who write essays on how to make math cool. Raytheon teamed with MathCounts, a nonprofit that promotes excellence in math among middle school students.

Engage personally: Zwieg has his IT HR team set up career information sessions at local high schools. Just remember: Keep it cool!

Partner with others: This summer, my daughter spent three weeks at the Advanced Biotechnology Institute (, where she had the chance to study biotech and medicine with other high school juniors and seniors. The kids did lab work, visited local companies to see biotech in action, heard lectures from visiting scientists and spent two days meeting with researchers at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. Larry Murphy, a high school science department head, founded the Advanced Biotechnology Institute because he believed that getting kids together to learn about biotech in a hands-on setting with no grade pressures would lead them to form a deeper interest. He was right. My daughter now tells me that she sees great opportunities in a field she once thought beyond her reach. I don’t know why this model wouldn’t work in IT, with CIOs as the visiting lecturers, and field trips to organizations doing cool things with IT.

Do you know of an innovative program to interest younger kids in science and technology? Let us know about it and we’ll publicize it. That’s how we can help.