Building Engineers and Computer Scientists One Bit at a Time

Published: Feb 23, 2012

Last week the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) held their annual event Bits & Bytes program for high school junior girls. The Bits & Bytes program is open to high school junior girls interested in finding out more about technology majors in college. The purpose of the event is to engage local high school girls in a college atmosphere as well as expose them to the possibility of an engineering or IT major.

“The event was definitely a success,” says Katie Glasser, Assistant Director of CWIT. “This is the largest group of girls we’ve ever had.”

Students come from high schools across Maryland and Virginia. “They get to know each other during the two-day program through team-building activities and the team design competitions,” says Glasser. Glasser says they also have the chance to meet with representatives from the different IT and engineering departments at UMBC, attend a college class, receive a tour of the UMBC campus and speak with a diverse group of UMBC students.

“It’s a lot of fun to see them experience college,” says CWIT scholar Michael Barrett. “This is a gateway for most of them.”

Northrop Grumman sponsored the event and Seanna Garrett from Northrop Grumman Corporation was the Keynote speaker at the Welcome Reception on Sunday evening. The Keynote is the kick-off to the Bits & Bytes event, and is designed to energize the high school girls and inspire them to be the next leaders in technology. In addition to the Keynote, a group of engineers from GE’s Middle River Aircraft Systems — Judah Baumer (UMBC Alumnus ’08), Holly Reilman, Margaret Schreffler, Rani Spivy and Rachel Preston — came on Sunday night to talk with the girls about potential engineering applications and they did an aviation engineering activity with paper airplanes.

The highlight of the two-day event was the engineering competition and the information technology competition. For the engineering competition the goal was to design an efficient vehicle that rolled down an inclined surface and crashed into a wall without disturbing the payload, an egg. For the information technology competition the student teams had to use the software, Alice, a 3-D programming environment. The objective? Create an animation based on a well-known children’s book using the Alice software. “The competition,” says one participant, “made me more confident about aspects of the Engineering field and my future potential.”

Each competition was judged by a team of three — composed of one UMBC faculty member, one UMBC student, and one industry professional. For the IT competition, the judges were Shreya Mohan (Information Systems Junior and CWIT Scholar), Amy Everhart (Information Systems), and Yolanda Clinton (Harris Corporation). There were two sets of judging teams for the engineering competition. One team included Amy Chou (Chemical Engineering Senior), Dr. Joshua Enszer (Chemical Engineering), and Gwen Cadieux (BAE Systems). The other team included Jessica Izumi (Chemical Engineering Sophomore), Dr. Tinoosh Mohsenin (Electrical Engineering), and Bridget Beamon (Johns Hopkins APL).

Some of the high school students say that as far as an engineering major goes they’re still on the fence. But, they say the Bits & Bytes program, allowed them to talk with UMBC students in the engineering and information technology programs at UMBC. This, they say introduced them to the different opportunities available — an experience which may one day soon give rise to the some of the nation’s next generation of engineers and information technology professionals.


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