Dan River Information Technology Academy (DRITA) Summative Evaluation
In 2006, the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) received a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation's Information/Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) division to create the Dan River Information Technology Academy (DRITA) for under-served high school students in rural Virginia. The only program of its kind in Southern Virginia, the program was designed to provide participating students with competencies in information technology (IT) and workforce skills. In addition, the program seeks to encourage students to graduate from high school and attend college. Students participate in a variety of skill-building activities in information-technology (IT) and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) topic-areas, including: Courses on Basic IT Skills (BITS), Programming using C++, Animation, Robotics, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS); Seventy-hour externships in Year 2 and 3, with local businesses, IALR departments, and educational institutions; and an Annual Tech Expo & Banquet where students present the fruits of their summer work for their families and instructors. Students who complete their courses are eligible to receive up to 6 college-credits through Danville Community College. Students who complete externships are eligible for $500 in scholarship dollars. KEY FINDINGS: DRITA successfully exposed students to STEM-related topics. As a result of that exposure, students gained significant skill-development in IT-related areas, including basic IT skills, hardware, animation, C++ programming, and robotics. Students agreed that DRITA is fun, gives them a valuable work-experience and prepares them for the college application process. Parents appreciated the opportunities the program gives their children, and believed that the entire region benefits from the program's existence. Students maintained their level of existing interest in IT throughout their years in the program. Students demonstrated that the program gave them marketable skills for the short-term, and believed that they gained marketable skills they could use in the long-term. The externships and the College & Career workshops were the most celebrated parts of the program. Externship supervisors and students felt students gained workforce-development skills through the externships; however, some externship-supervisors felt that their business or organization was not a match for the program. Some students have already earned money due to the skills they gained through DRITA: two students received part-time jobs through their externship placement and one student is pursuing an entrepreneurial-endeavor to design and sell web layouts. Parents and students found the information they gained in the College & Career workshops to be helpful, valuable, and not accessible to them otherwise; students who were not previously interested in attending college became interested in college after the campus visits. Through the college preparation and IT courses, students were able to focus their career choices and see how STEM-related topics could fit into a variety of career trajectories. Program staff has navigated changes in leadership and programmatic challenges successfully, resulting in a streamlined program after three-years. The appendix of this report includes pre- and post-surveys as well as interview protocols.