Summer Bridge students catch computing fever
Summer Bridge students and their hosts at Microsoft
Experts agree that the next wave of innovation in computing requires diversity in the research and development teams who will create it. I believe that means expanding the pipeline of students entering computing. In particular, we need to get more girls into the pipeline, which is why I am so pleased to have had two amazing young women working with me as interns this summer: Veronica Catete, a third-year doctoral student at North Carolina State University, and Alka Pai, a senior at Tesla STEM High School in Redmond, Washington.
Veronica and Alka are enthusiastic about encouraging more young women to study and work in the computer sciences. To that end, they are developing a free, online computer science toolkit for middle-school girls as well as a course that teaches principles of computer science through game design. When they aren’t busy developing amazing tools, this dynamic duo is participating in events and activities that are designed to excite young people about the future of computer science.
I’d like to hand it over to Veronica and Alka, to discuss an event they hosted in July at Microsoft’s Redmond (Washington) campus. As you read their account, I encourage you to ask yourself how you, too, might help foster more diversity to computing. We all have an interest in promoting innovation in technology and computer science. Perhaps Veronica and Alka’s blog inspires some ideas—if so, I’d love to hear from you!
—Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director for Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research
On July 17, 13 students (10 girls and 3 boys) from the greater Seattle area came to Microsoft to explore the possibilities offered by careers in computing. These students are part of the Summer Bridge Program, an academic enrichment and college readiness project offered through the University of Washington Women’s Center. This program is designed for promising eighth-grade students who are interested in exploring science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—the so-called STEM fields.
We gave the students a tour of the Microsoft campus, highlighting several of the amazing projects underway here. The students started their day by exploring modeling and graphics by designing 3D models of Seattle’s iconic Space Needle, which they were able to print in the Microsoft Research hardware lab.
Working together, students build a model of the Seattle Space Needle.
During lunch, our visitors enjoyed a panel discussion from three of our high-school interns, Alisha Meherally, Arjun Narayan, and me (Alka). We discussed how we got started in computer science and what it’s like to work at Microsoft. We also offered our tips for finding opportunities to work in and learn about computer science outside the classroom. I think we surprised the students by admitting that all three of us entered computer science studies reluctantly—kicking and screaming, so to speak. But we hastened to add that now, having experienced the thrill of resolving software bugs and seeing computing’s potential for creative disruption, we are avid enthusiasts, deeply passionate about our work in computer science.
The Summer Bridge students then participated in a TouchDevelop workshop, where they used Windows 8 phones to write actual software code. Then we headed off to tour Microsoft’s state-of-the-art Cybercrime Center, where the students got upclose and personal with the forensics lab and experienced, firsthand, the tools and techniques used to spot cyber crimes. For example, students Waltana Dewit, Yohannes Seghane, and Sarina Tran examined several supposed Microsoft products, working together to determine which were legitimate and which were counterfeit. “You have to look really hard to notice the differences,” said Yohannes. “If someone were to buy one of these from Amazon, I don’t think they would be able to tell.”
Looking for cyber crimes: students try to identify counterfeit software products.
Our visitors finished the day by touring Microsoft Research’s hardware lab. There they got to see the cool gadgets that the researchers use to prototype their ideas or fix a broken part.
The students were excited to see the potential of computer science careers to change the world, and they came away with a deeper understanding of why they should study STEM. They left with smiles on their faces, souveniors in their pockets, and a world of opportunity ahead. “This place is amazing,” observed Ngocmi Ngo. “I’ve already decided that I want to work here, now I just have to wait until I’m a junior.”
That’s the spirit, Ngocmi.
—Veronica Catete and Alka Pai, Microsoft Research Interns