The next generation of Titans dove into the world of coding and computer science last week on the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh campus.
Designed to spark interest in the tech field, Tech Titans introduced girls entering grades 6 through 10 to the fundamentals of computer programming. They quickly moved into more advanced techniques and then worked on designing their own functional mobile applications from start to finish.
More than 36 middle and high school girls from Appleton, Berlin, Menasha and Oshkosh attended.
Management information systems lecturer Michael Patton said the girls were at the perfect age for an introduction to the field of information systems and computer sciences.
“We are teaching them the basic skills they will be using in their careers–regardless of whether they enter information systems or computer science fields. Things like wire-framing, basic application thought and basic code are skills that they will need in any project-based, career situation,” Patton said.
Although Ella and Lexi Schaefer’s father works in cyber security, they were not a 100 percent sold on attending the academy.
“We just thought our dad signed us up for something that is just interesting to him but really this camp is different and much cooler than I expected, Ella said.
UW Oshkosh professors led tutorial-based instruction and then turned the students loose to create. Divided into small working groups, the girls found common interests and developed team names.
The girls learned as they brainstormed ideas, developed story lines and programmed their apps using Android tablet devices.
College of Business student mentors were on hand to give one-on-one support to the academy participants.
Kaiya Ruedinger, Emma Anderson and Sophie Rigoni formed Team Dragonland. Bonded by a love of fantasy literature, they developed a choose-your-own adventure app, featuring artwork of a dragon that they drew themselves. Players walked through a series of questions and depending on their answers met with four different fates.
Team Tech llamas Julia Bock, Dakota Miller and Evelyn Oehler enjoyed the experience of developing their Loopy Llamas app together.
“It was easier to code in a group, because you can bounce ideas off of each other and you succeed or fail together, and I liked that,” Miller said.
Patton said it is important to offer an all-girls camp, especially in fields that have been traditionally male-dominated.
“We worked hard to create a safe environment where the girls felt supported to take risks, try new ways of thinking, and to pick themselves up and move on from initial failures. In co-ed camps (especially at this age), girls are often intimidated and/or marginalized; we wanted to give them the opportunity to push the boundaries of expectation,” Patton said.
Kate Lynn, Kealie Prah and Lexi Dorner (Team KKL) took that lesson to heart as they pushed past designing a basic application and tried to incorporating animation into their app.
“Our maze app asks a player to move the square through the maze. We wanted to challenge ourselves to see if we could do something different from the rest of the teams, and our mentors helped us when we got stuck or had questions,” Dorner said.
UW Oshkosh seniors Sarah Martin, a supply chain and information systems major; and Alex Weiland, an information systems major, are two of the 12 mentors who helped the girls develop their apps. They said it is uplifting to see so many girls working together.
“I was drawn to the creativity that is inherently part of this major. To develop code and affect an outcome is a very empowering thing,” Martin said.
“When I started the major, I was one of two girls in the classroom. It is wonderful to see a group of girls not only working together but also sharing their passion and excitement for coding. I hope their college classrooms will see a wider representation of females,” Weiland said.
Opportunity of place
Jakob Iverson said that UW Oshkosh is uniquely positioned to participate in workforce development initiatives like Tech Titans to produce graduates with a baccalaureate degree in IT.
“We have high-performing information systems and computer science programs that are capable of making a meaningful difference in the supply of talent. Our graduates benefit from being ideally located in the Fox Valley, a population-dense region with many private industries reliant on IT graduates.”
Tech Titans was jointly presented by the Division of Online and Continuing Education (OCE) and the College of Business (COB) and funded, in part, by an Innovation grant from the state of Wisconsin. Iverson said this is the first of many initiatives that COB will be offering in the year to come.
“We are committed to continuing to engage youth by introducing this important field to them. We look forward to offering Tech Titans again next summer and expanding our other programs like InnovaIT mobile app competition and adding a technology track to the Alta Resources Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation,” Iverson said.
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