Information Technology Academy gives student a welcoming community and a path for her future

Fatou Barrow

Fatou Barrow was in 8th grade when she learned about the Information Technology Academy (ITA), a UW–Madison precollege program for high school students to get training, academic support, mentoring, and leadership development as well as job opportunities.

Now a 17-year-old high school senior, Barrow’s been with ITA for four years—from summer camps through an internship. In between, she’s become well-versed in technology, made friends, gotten to know UW–Madison, and started shaping her future.

Since 2000, more than 200 students have graduated from ITA Madison, and an estimated 99% of graduates have gone on to attend post-secondary institutions. Many have pursued advanced degrees.

In alignment with UW–Madison’s the Information Technology Academy aims to increase enrollment rates of diverse students. The program serves the communities of Madison, Lac du Flambeau, and Oneida. Through ITA, students build knowledge and skills while their communities benefit from greater access to technology and from the skills and experience gained by these future leaders.

Incoming ITA Madison scholars attend a two-week summer technology camp held at UW–Madison. During the summer before sophomore year, students complete another two-week day camp on campus. Before junior year, students do paid internships in which they apply their technology skills by working in real-world settings across campus, and they complete a technology lab class.

Before senior year, students join their counterparts from Oneida and Lac du Flambeau for a one-week residential camp on UW–Madison’s campus in which they take technology, leadership, and college preparation courses.

During the school year, scholars like Fatou come to campus two Saturdays per month to participate in technology and precollege coursework and community building activities.

Fatou’s story

Getting an iMac computer was a big motivator to join the Information Technology Academy! But really, it was such a great opportunity, and my mom was definitely for it. So when it came time to apply, I took it very seriously.

I started the summer before my freshman year. That first summer we had a two-week camp that introduced us to basics of technology, but we also built a computer. The second summer was a film camp. We learned a lot about video and made movies. The third summer we had internships—I had one with University Housing in their IT department. This last summer, we had our senior residential experience to learn about life at UW–Madison. It was like we were real college students. We took global issues and had to come up with a product to solve them. My group did credit card theft.

The program also runs every other Saturday throughout the year. We do various technology projects. Last year, for my junior year, we learned about coding, which was really hard. And this year, we are building our own website to show our portfolio of what we have done.

People think the Information Technology Academy is just about the technology. The technology learning is really great, and I definitely use what I’ve learned in my everyday life. I know how to use Excel, PowerPoint, and Word to their fullest potential. But it’s the social skills and other life skills that make this a great program. For example, we created resumes and cover letters, we learned how to represent ourselves well to colleges and employers, and we learned how to work in professional settings.

It’s also great that the instructors from the Information Technology Academy are college students. I have learned a lot from them not only in the technology field, but life skills as well. Many of them were ITA students themselves. It gave me a sneak peek at what my future could look like. They were great instructors, and really funny. One in particular—my coding instructor—was from Africa. It was fun because we are both African. It was nice to see someone like me already on the path to success. It was an inspiration.

I’ve also gotten close to a lot of people. Our cohort is about 30 students from different schools. I did know students from my own school going in to the program, so it wasn’t like I was going in alone, but I feel like our whole cohort is really close now. One of the things I disliked but that brought us together was walking up Bascom Hill. It was really funny because we’d get each other through by yelling up that hill together.

So ITA creates a welcoming and safe community, a place where they really do care for us. And we all depend on each other. I remember one night of my senior residential experience was really memorable. We did a ceremony where we wrote our hopes and dream on a piece of paper then came back around a campfire in a circle and talked about what we wrote. It was really touching. We all laughed and had fun together, but we really got close and understood each other.

I’m not sure what my future is going to look like. Although I do enjoy technology, I think I want to dig deep into social justice. If I attend UW–Madison I want to major in psychology, or maybe double major in psychology and political science, and hopefully go into a career path I enjoy—maybe law or something in the government. I definitely would suggest the Information Technology Academy to others because I think it is important for anybody to be a part of something that can help you with your future.

To learn more, check out the Information Technology Academy website, email ita@doit.wisc.edu, or call 608-265-3145.