By Jennifer Donovan

HOUGHTON (WWJ) — Nineteen female high school students who are fascinated by computer science are spent last week at Michigan Technological University, exploring this fast-moving field.  Girls from as far away as Delaware won scholarships to participate in Michigan Tech’s Women in Computer Science summer program.

The program is sponsored by Lansing-based Jackson National Life Insurance Co., which has an IT satellite office in Houghton’s MTEC SmartZone business incubator.

They learned about programming, artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, visualization, networks and security. They got hands-on instruction as well as classroom theory, developing their own mobile apps.

During the week they had an opportunity to interact with current Michigan Tech students, alumni and other women role models to find out first hand about real life in computer science education and computing careers.  They also learned about the wide range of opportunities and excellent job prospects in computing across a variety of industries.

Friday morning, the girls headed for the Portage Lake District Library to see the weekly “Online at the Library” help sessions that volunteers from Michigan Tech provide for senior citizens and other computer novices. Then they visited sponsor Jackson’s offices in the University’s Lakeshore Center business incubator. Jackson employs Michigan Tech computer science students in its Houghton satellite office.

The week wound up with visits from representatives of local companies that hire computer science students.  The girls conducted demonstrations of their mobile app projects for the company reps.

The Women in Computer Science workshop is one of many initiatives that Michigan Tech is undertaking to increase women’s participation in computing disciplines.  Earlier this year, the University was selected as one of 20 universities and 14 companies nationwide to participate in the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) Pacesetters program.

NCWIT Pacesetters is a 2-year program in which senior leaders from companies and universities publicly commit to increasing the number of women in the US computing and technology workforce.  The program is sponsored by the National Science Foundation  (NSF), Google and Qualcomm.

According to the NCWIT, women currently hold only 25 percent of all computing-related jobs in the US. They earn just 18 percent of computing and information sciences degrees granted by US universities.

Pacesetters at Michigan Tech is a collaborative effort of the College of Sciences & Arts, the Department of Computer Science, and the Admissions and Alumni offices. The University plans to partner with young alumnae who are willing to share their experiences with prospective students to provide examples of opportunities at Michigan Tech for undergraduate research, co-ops and internships, networking and future careers.

“For many years I have been interested in finding ways to encourage young women to pursue computing as a career, said Linda Ott, professor and former chair of computer science and head of the Pacesetters program at Michigan Tech. “There are so many exciting career opportunities for those in computing.”


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