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Summer 2018 TechSavvy

Posted on: October 20, 2018

Since 2009, the UMass Boston CS Department has joined Boston’s city-wide initiative to increase the interest and participation of women in science, technology, and scientific research. This initiative is called TechSavvy and it is a week-long summer camp, whose participants include UMass Boston, Harvard University, MIT, Boston University, Northeastern University, and Wentworth Institute of Technology. The camp targets sixth, seventh, and eight graders. UMass Boston is the only campus that provides one-day training in and showcases Computer Science; meanwhile other universities provided training in Engineering, Chemistry, Mechanical Engineering, etc.

This year members of Women in Science Club Olga Andreeva and Hefei Qiu under the direction of Professor Wei Ding were in charge of organizing this one day event at UMass Boston.

We were able to invite two speakers from Boston: Shayna Cummings and Professor Ayse Coskun. Shayna Cummings, who is a software developer at Pluralsight and co-organizer of Women Who Code Boston, shared the experience of how she started and pursued her career in software development with a linguistics and psychology educational background. Ayse Coskun, who is an Associate Professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Boston University, provided a high-level explanation of her ongoing research and described her story of how she became involved in Computer Engineering and Computer Science.

Under the direction of Olga Andreeva and with the great help of John Mazzarella and his team at Maker Space, girls were able to obtain an experience in Virtual Reality. Using special VR-equipment they played the game “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes”. While having fun with this activity, girls personally experienced and learned what Virtual Reality is, how it works, and how important teamwork is.

Hefei Qiu was in charge of the coding competition for the participants. Girls received training on how to code using the Python Turtle Graphics library which can be used to make amazing drawings. During the training and competition, girls had a chance to see what it is like to write their own code. As a result, everyone of participants now can say that they have an experience with coding in python and they can write code to draw wonderful graphics.

Pre- and post-event surveys were held. It is great to notice that even though only 10 out of 30 girls were interested in computing in the beginning, only 2 out of 30 participants were not excited about programming at the end of the day. All in all, the day was described as fun, cool, interesting and exciting. They’ve also found it hard, challenging, and educational.

Our main sponsors are: The College of Science and Mathematics Dean’s Office gracefully supported lunch and giveaways for this event, Marker Space provided one of the most important event spaces for us and 3D printed special gifts for TechSavvy participants.


John Mazarella: “I thought the event went great! I did a presentation to several different middle school and high school student groups this summer, and the TechSavvy group seemed the most interested and engaged in the activities we planned for them. I think this was because we spent some extra time thinking up an activity that was best suited to the age of the students. I'm used to teaching UMass students and faculty, and it was made very clear to me this summer what a difference it is teaching to younger folks, and making an extra effort to come up with a plan for engaging activities really made a difference!”

Olga Andreeva: “I think this event turned out to be successful. We were able to show girls that Computer Science has various sides, and anyone can find something exciting there. I am glad I had a chance to share with girls what inspires me. Hopefully, they have also found an inspiration that would keep them in STEM fields.”

Hefei Qiu: “We had a wonderful day with those girls. I am glad I had this opportunity to show them computer science is hard but also fun, is challenging but also achievable, is for boys but also for girls. During the coding training that day, a girl told me she does not like computer science and she likes biology instead. Just as I told her, to figure out what you are truly interested in is the most import thing. I hope what I have done and what I keep doing can help them on this exploring journey.”

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