High School Students Explore Computing and Engineering at Girls Technology Day

By Beth LaMontagne Hall
Thursday, March 20, 2014
Posted in: Campus News
Related: Computer Information Systems, Computer Science & Entrepreneurship, Electrical Engineering Technology, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, MS Information Technology,

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Samantha and Malen, Pinkerton Academy freshmen, work with UNH Manchester Professor Mihaela Sabin to develop a mobile app. (Photo by Kim Wall)

The computer tech boom of the past decade has created many new and exciting careers for young people, but what troubles people like Mihaela Sabin, associate professor and coordinator of the Computing Technology Program in the Division of Science and Technology at UNH Manchester, is that too few young women are entering the tech field.

“One stereotype that prevents girls from being interested in computing is about how technology professionals are perceived,” said Sabin. "Girls in middle school and high school imagine a lonely programmer working on a laptop, she said, with little collaboration or communication with co-workers and team mates. Unfortunately, many girls see working in technology as kind of geeky and lacking meaningful social interactions."

To change this perception and spark interest in technology-based careers, Sabin, along with others like Mary Laturnau, director of the IT and Manufacturing Partnership in the Career Development Bureau with the NH Department of Education, decided to hold a one-day event for middle school and early high school age girls. Girls Technology Day received an overwhelmingly positive response in its first year in 2013. Held again this year on March 19, the event focused on teaching girls that fields of study and careers in technology aren't just about sitting in front of a computer screen all day.

“What we are saying is that computing and engineering are highly creative, and we should empower girls to create new technologies rather than just using them. Nobody disputes that the more diverse a high-tech team, the more successful and impactful the solution is. That’s why we must broaden participation of women on these teams, and introduce girls to the wonders of inventing technological solutions as early as possible,” said Sabin.

Girls Technology Day 2014, held at NHTI, Concord's Community College, was attended by more than 200 girls from 18 New Hampshire schools. Girls got to attend four workshop sessions, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. In between workshops the girls were able to speak with representatives from companies in the technology industry about possible careers and talk to colleges that offer computing and engineering degrees in a career fair/college fair type atmosphere.

Workshops are geared to show the interactive and social value of technology careers, and include sessions on 3-D modeling, industrial robotics, creating social media web pages, and inventing Android mobile apps, programming games, troubleshooting computer networks, and engineering telecommunication infrastructures. They are taught by volunteers working in the field, including Sabin; Michael Jonas, assistant professor of Computing Technology Program and Engineering Technology Program; and UNH alumna Bethany Ross from Dyn, Inc.

Girls Technology Day has proved to be extremely popular. For a second year in a row, available spots were filled in one day.

Malen, a freshman at Pinkerton Academy said she’s always been interested in science and found learning more about how technology can be put into action “really cool.”

“This is a really good opportunity for girls” she said. “We get a lot of opportunities at Pinkerton through clubs and stuff, but here we get to learn about so many different fields.”

Samantha, another freshman at Pinkerton, took Sabin’s session on making a phone app and learned “it is way easier” than she thought it would be.

“This event really opens your eyes to the different job opportunities and different aspects of the computing field,” Samantha said.

Inviting girls to learn more about computer science and technology is about more than getting them interested in phone apps and robotics, it’s about showing them the opportunities available in the working world.

“In my job I do a lot of professional development and every time I talked to someone at a high school, community college, or a university, they mention how few females they have in their classes,” said Laturnau. “It ranges from 2 percent to 12 percent female participation.”

By showing these girls how technology can affect change and be an engaging way to solve problems with relevant, direct social impact is a first step. The next step, Laturnau said, is showing them what kind of job they could have with a computer science or engineering degree.

“They have to see that the end result of their participation is benefiting the world,” said Laturnau. “This day makes the connection.”

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