Community empowerment and growing more women in tech
Almost a year ago, I moved to Bend, a town in the Cascade Mountains of central Oregon. This former timber town (it was once home to two of the world’s largest pine mills) has reinvented itself as an outdoor recreation mecca and, according to Entrepreneur Magazine, the most entrepreneurial city in the United States. Today, Bend has more than 40 technology companies and one the highest densities of startups per capita in the nation. For me, Bend offers the perfect mix of business and pleasure. I can hike, mountain bike, and ski to my heart’s content, and when duty calls, I’m only a 40-minute flight away from Seattle and Microsoft Research Redmond, and—more importantly—Bend’s broadband infrastructure allows me to connect to university and research centers throughout the world. What’s more, living in Bend has given me the opportunity to help build and shape the new computer science department at OSU-Cascades, a branch campus of Oregon State University.
Having a community so diverse—with a traditional tourism industry and a new economy of startup technology companies—presents interesting opportunities. Having been actively involved with the Seattle-area’s TEDxSouthLakeUnionWomen last year, I naturally joined the TEDxBend community and quickly began investigating how to organize a salon series for my new team. A salon is a weekly, monthly, or quarterly event that keeps the community engaged in between larger TED events. I want to involve the creative, innovative Bend community, especially its women, in harnessing the passion of TEDx—not just to share great ideas but also to turn them into reality, by challenging people to confront and solve hard problems.
I believe women are change agents: inventors and idea champions who can empower our community. During the first TEDxBendSalon, scheduled for January 29, 2014, our theme will be community empowerment. We’ll discuss how generations of women are transforming lives as well as entire communities in both the developing world and the developed world. We will stream previous TEDx talks that are relevant to community empowerment, and we’ll have four fantastic speakers focused on empowering women, veterans, entrepreneurs, and the community. My fellow Microsoft researcher, Jessa Lingel, will be one of the speakers.
Given the importance of nurturing the next generation, 25 percent of the attendees will be students from Central Oregon Community College (COCC) and OSU-Cascades. I want to introduce these students to the opportunities and leaders in their community. I’m especially eager for them to see women who are making a difference, and to show them the possibilities in their own backyard for using technology to change the world.
I’m most excited about the idea-generation session, where first we will break into small groups to discuss challenges in central Oregon and how we can solve them, and then we will form teams and set a course of action for the year. Two of our 12 group leaders are students from OSU-Cascades and COCC. As the organizer of the salon, I will not be able to speak, but I will be leading a discussion group to ensure that one of our challenge areas focuses on how to increase the involvement of women in computing in central Oregon. I hope these ideas will come to fruition and that we’ll be able to share our success stories at TEDxBendWomen in December 2014.
Our salon event sold out in five days, so it is too late to register, but please contact me if you would like to attend our next salon, which is slated for some time in July or August.
—Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections