Q&A With the Internet2 Inclusivity Initiative (I2I) Steering Committee Co-Chairs Emeriti Laurie Burns McRobbie and Marla Meehl

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By Taleitha McGuinnis - Program Manager, Affiliates & Federal Affiliates

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Laurie Burns McRobbie, former Internet2 staff and now university fellow at Indiana University, and Marla Meehl, manager of network engineering and telecommunications services at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and manager of the Front Range GigaPoP (FRGP), have been deeply involved in the Internet2 Inclusivity Initiative (I2I) since the program began in 2014. They served as co-chairs of the I2I Steering Committee from 2014-2021 and continue to offer their support as co-chairs emeriti. 

The I2I scholarship program is back for the first time in over two years for the 2022 Internet2 Technology Exchange. As co-chairs emeriti, Laurie and Marla are supporting the open scholarship application process, collaborating on and planning the I2I presentation at the Technology Exchange, and identifying mentors for the selected scholarship recipients at the conference. Additionally, they continue to provide guidance and support to the new I2I Steering Committee co-chairs and suggest future programming opportunities.

In this Q&A, Laurie and Marla share what sparked their interest in I2I, highlights from their experiences with the program, and their hopes for the future of I2I.

Apply for the 2022 I2I Scholarship
We are now accepting applications for the 2022 I2I Scholarship! To learn more about the application process, view the requirements, and to apply, visit the Internet2 Inclusivity Scholarship Award Information page. Please consider applying or encourage a colleague to apply for this opportunity.
Laurie Burns McRobbie (left) and Marla Meehl

Tell us about your career trajectory and how supporting women in IT has been part of your journey.

Marla Meehl: I went into business information sciences as an undergraduate, but it was a pretty new and evolving degree. I worked as a student throughout my undergraduate, which heavily influenced my direction from the type of organization I liked to the jobs I liked. I ended up staying in school and getting a master’s in telecommunications, which led to the track I started in 1986 at UCAR, where I have had a fabulous 35-plus-year career. UCAR allowed me the opportunities to develop the FRGP and participate extensively in external activities including diversity efforts.

Laurie Burns McRobbie: I got into tech as a liberal arts undergraduate, a case of being in the right place at the right time, which was around 1980. Through friends, I learned about what was going on with computer networking and from there took a job with the Merit Computer Network in the state of Michigan in about 1984, just as Merit was rolling out the first TCP/IP-based network for Michigan universities. I jumped at the chance to work with a great group of engineers and technologists and with the academic user community to support network adoption. After 15 years in the central IT organization at the University of Michigan, I moved to Internet2 as the director of member relations and got to see advanced networking innovations going on across the whole country. I was fortunate to work with a number of female colleagues and for two organizations deeply committed to diversity and representation, and it made a huge difference to my sense of belonging.

What sparked your interest in supporting the Internet2 Inclusivity Initiative (I2I)?

Marla Meehl: I was approached by Ana Hunsinger about the I2I concept. As a woman in IT, I had become increasingly aware of and interested in exploring opportunities to make an impact on women in IT.

Laurie Burns McRobbie: I left the Internet2 staff in 2007 but stayed in close contact with former colleagues, Ana in particular. She invited me to present at the 2013 Internet2 Annual Meeting on the alarming dip in women earning CS degrees and other dismal statistics about gender gaps in the tech world. The session was standing-room only, and the initiative was born out of that community interest shortly thereafter. A lifelong feminist, I’ve never stopped being focused on gender equality, but I realized I had not always been doing everything I could to address it. We always have to be looking out for the next generation.

What is a favorite memory or accomplishment from your service as a co-chair of the I2I Steering Committee?

Marla Meehl: Meeting I2I awardees in person at Internet2 meetings and sharing a screening of the Bias documentary with director Robin Hauser at the 2018 Internet2 Global Summit.

Laurie Burns McRobbie: Realizing that we had created a sustainable community of women who had gotten scholarships and were creating opportunities for each other.

What have you taken away from your experiences engaging with former I2I scholarship recipients?

Marla Meehl: That small steps and programs can make a difference in lives and directions. I have written letters in support of awards, promotions, and citizenship through these relationships and am glad that I can help further the cause for more women in IT. I have also gained as much or more from meeting these engaging, talented, and intelligent women.

Laurie Burns McRobbie: Fully agree! Small targeted investments in people can make all the difference to their lives and careers, and we’ve seen that happen repeatedly. I2I is now being led by two I2I scholarship recipients, which is fantastic.

What advice do you have for future I2I scholarship recipients?

Marla Meehl: Take full advantage of the professional networking opportunities that the award will afford you. Having a strong professional network is so important both personally and professionally to further your career and feel connected.

Laurie Burns McRobbie: Agree again. Reach out not only to your fellow scholarship recipients but to others you meet through this opportunity. You have so much to offer them; never forget that.

What is your hope for the future of the I2I Steering Committee, the inclusivity initiative program, and the scholarship?

Marla Meehl: I hope the program continues to grow and evolve and continues to explore programs and activities that will engage and expand the number of women in IT.

Laurie Burns McRobbie: I look forward to seeing scholarship recipients as presenters and speakers at meetings. And I can’t help but look forward to a day in the future when Internet2 itself is led by a woman!