2021 in Review: Break Through Tech Learns, Grows

2021: Year in Review, overlaid on four different images of students working together, smiling

For Break Through Tech, 2021 was a year of evolution.

How We Got Here

Break Through Tech started in New York City in 2016 as Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York (WiTNY). We became Break Through Tech, a national organization that works at the intersection of industry and academia, in January of 2020 — using a unique, ecosystem model that replicates our programs on the ground in partnership with university hosts. Now, 2 years later, we’re offering our Computing programs in 4 cities and have piloted a new program in AI. Significant growth comes with its share of challenges, we look at those moments as learning opportunities. The more we learn, the better we become at shaping opportunities for women pursuing degrees and careers in computer science.

To date, we’ve had:
  • 3,000+ students engaged in AI and Computing programs, and thousands of additional students impacted by Break Through Tech curriculum and community programs
  • 100+ Industry Partners contributing projects, mentors, and internship opportunities to our students
  • 5 host sites partnered with 6 public universities to bring our programming to a diverse group of female-identifying and nonbinary students
Programming in 2021
  • Break Through Tech New York continued the momentum the site has been building for the last five years. New York placed 195 virtual Sprinterns™ at 33 companies in January. On average, over 50% of our Sprinterns that were seeking a technical summer internship were able to secure one following their Sprinternship™, making the innovative flagship program an important alternative pathway that avoids some of the structural barriers women in tech face to getting hired. The New York site also welcomed its new Site Director, Julissa Baez. 
  • In March, Break Through Tech announced the next site in its national expansion: the DC Metro area, hosted by George Mason University and the University of Maryland, College Park. 2021 saw Break Through Tech DC assemble its team, run its first Guilds for 112 students, and start to make valuable connections in the DC metro area, in preparation for their first group of Sprinterns™ who will be placed with their hosts in January of 2022. DC Site Director Donna White said of the programs, “Break Through Tech is a crucial step in increasing opportunities for women earning computing degrees and their future positions as leaders.” In the DC area, this focus is especially important for the fields of cybersecurity, healthcare, and other industries dominated by the nation’s capital.
  • Break Through Tech Chicago, hosted by the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC)  innovated throughout the year. UIC sponsored a new section of UIC’s introductory computing course, CS111, for female-identifying and nonbinary students, which was free and for-credit during a summer session. Taking this course is requisite for declaring a major or minor in computer science, so offering a tuition-free option for underrepresented students removes a significant barrier to entry for students who are interested but not yet committed to studying computer science. Break Through Tech Chicago is now poised to offer sections of the course year round, with the next offering in January 2022. The Chicago site offered Sprinternships™ in May, and placed 114 Sprinterns™ with 20 different companies. Of the 106 Sprinterns™ who responded to an annual employment survey, 64% of those who sought out summer tech internships has landed one. About one third of these students went on to work at Break Through Tech partner organizations.  The Chicago Site Director, Amita Shetty, says “the tech world of tomorrow will look different. There will be more diversity: in gender, in background, in ways of thinking. It will be that way because of the important work we are doing here today.”  
  • And in December, in partnership with Pivotal Ventures and GET Cities, we announced Break Through Tech Miami, hosted by Florida International University. Mark Weiss, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education in the College of Engineering and Computing, identified why the emerging tech landscape in Miami is the perfect next location for Break Through Tech’s programs. “South Florida has the nation’s second-least diverse tech workforce when analyzed by gender. CBRE reports that less than a quarter (23%) of the region’s workforce consists of women,” Weiss said. “A major goal of [Break Through Tech Miami at FIU] is to increase the employment levels of women in technology.” And FIU is uniquely positioned to make that impact, since 72% of their female-identifying undergraduates self-identify as an underrepresented minority (e.g., Black, Latinx, or two or more races)
  • This Summer, the inaugural cohort of 40 students from 15+ colleges and universities across Greater NYC participated in Break Through Tech’s pilot AI program, the machine-learning counterpart to our Computing program. Watch for announcements about this program throughout 2022.
Thought Leadership in 2021
  • We continue to put an emphasis on Thought Leadership as one of our levers for driving systemic change. This summer, Break Through Tech’s Founder and Executive Director, Dr. Judith Spitz, was named to Forbes’ 50 Over 50: Impact list for her leadership in the tech world.  She published 4 articles as a Forbes contributor and will continue to use that platform to unpack the complex issues facing gender equity in the tech world.  We’re excited to see Break Through Tech’s programs discussed in front of such large audiences, where the observations we are able to make from our perch at the intersection of industry and academia may be heard by both sides of the supply chain. In 2022, Spitz will be making appearances at our sites across the country.
  • This fall, Break Through Tech’s Sprinternship™ Program was used as an example of ‘How to Do It” in the Action to Catalyze Tech (ACT ) Report, signed by companies like Apple, Etsy, Google and many others.

For Break Through Tech, 2021 was all about learning as we grow, and in 2022, we expect to continue that momentum. With more growth and partnerships to announce in the pipeline, we’re excited for what’s coming.

To get involved and stay informed in 2022, click here.