August 06, 2017

Bits and Bytes: Middle school girls learn computer programming skills and career perspective (and have fun) during week-long camp at Eastern Michigan University

Students enjoy hands-on learning and hear from recent EMU graduates working in computer science

YPSILANTI – “The tides are shifting,” Nicole Arruda told the group of middle school girls and their parents. “Don’t be scared of jargon and bravado.”

Adrienne Bourdua agreed. “The possibilities are endless as to what you can do with computer science,” she said.

Arruda, a programmer with Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor; and Bourdua, a product manager with Ford Motor Company, both recent Eastern Michigan University Computer Science graduates, offered that perspective Friday, August 4 at the closing ceremonies for the first annual Bits and Bytes, a week-long summer day camp at the University.

Jumpstarting careers with real-world perspective

The camp introduced the girls to computing, using a fun and hands-on approach. Under the supervision of Krish Narayanan, a professor of computer science at EMU, the 14 area participants explored a variety of computer science and programming concepts with tools such as Arduino, Scratch, AppInventor, and Ozobots, including programming Ozobots to traverse an obstacle course, as shown in the video.

The camp was funded and supported by the National Center for Women and Information Technology, through a grant secured by Preethi Narayanan, the camp leader.

From left, Preethi Narayanan (camp leader) helps campers Salsabeel Hodge, and Neela Rajesh learn programming using Arduino software.

“The students were introduced to important principles that will jumpstart their interest in computer science,” said Narayanan. “The girls interacted with college students who are studying computer science and female professionals from the industry as well.

“We also had a special day dedicated to having the participants demonstrate what they have learned and apply their ideas to a real-world challenge, which we called a mockathon.”

The mockathon winners, (Abby Cullen, Sakthi Vijay and Bavani Vijay), described their winning effort – developing an app that could teach fifth graders about the human heart – at the closing ceremonies.

People skills also play a crucial role

During that event, the middle schoolers were treated to a panel discussion that included two other EMU alums, Anna Wendt, who works in forensics for Domino’s (which she called a tech company that sells pizzas); and Michigan State doctoral candidate Vidhya Tekken Valapil, along with Arruda and Bourdua.

Arruda cited the importance of collaboration, of learning to work with people and breaking problems into solvable parts as key skills (Think of those word problems you had in math class).

Salsabeel Hodge (far left) shows fellow students an Android app her team had created using AppInventor.

The group emphasized that their work involves far more than coding, and said it’s great the students are showing an interest in computer science at such an early age. “We come up for air quite often,” Bourdua said, mentioning the numerous whiteboarding sessions she attends with her colleagues.

Students display impressive knowledge

The group also heard a fun presentation from Jennifer Marsman, a principal software development engineer for Microsoft Corporation. Marsman drew laughs and expressions of wonderment as she displayed the myriad powers of software, such as speech, sentiment and language recognition.

Narayanan, who in past summers has done individual mentoring for middle school students, expressed excitement over her initial Bits and Bytes camp, marveling at the middle schoolers’ knowledge and noting she’s eager for next summer’s program, tentatively set for June.

“It’s hard to keep up; these students are so well informed,” she told the enthusiastic gathering of parents and students at the closing ceremonies. “I’m constantly having to develop new materials and having to improve.”

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest university in Michigan. It currently serves 22,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Health and Human Services; Technology, and its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

Contact Geoff Larcom, glarcom@emich.edu, 734.487.4401

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