Public Relations  >  News Center  >  News Releases  >  July 2018  >  July 9, 2018  >  Out of the box and Upward: Creighton hosts high school women with an interest in coding, tech
Out of the box and Upward: Creighton hosts high school women with an interest in coding, tech

“It’s like Christmas!” the young woman shouts as she pulls all the makings of a midsized computer from its box and lays before her a monitor, keyboard and mouse, trying to determine the next step.

“Are we building a computer?” someone else asks.

“You are building a computer,” confirms Kathy Craig director of innovation, research and development with the Creighton University RaD Lab.

Technically — Craig reminds the seven high-school women taking part in this summer Upward Bound technology course hosted by Creighton and the RaD Lab — they’ve already built the computer. It’s a box about the size of a deck of cards, called a Raspberry Pi, which they will now connect to these more recognizable components — monitor, keyboard, mouse — and begin coding.

In Week 4 of the five-week course, these young women have already had a master’s course in creating hologram-like illusions and a photosphere, working with virtual and augmented reality, and getting a taste of design thinking. This next step is into a new lingua franca of their generation: the language of code.

“It’ll be interesting to see what happens next,” says Nia Johnson, a junior at Omaha Central High School, as she turns the Raspberry Pi box over in her hands. “We’re going to program them and we’ll have to see what comes out of that. It’s been fun and I think it’s about to get more fun.”

In this, the second year Creighton and the RaD Lab have hosted the Upward Bound tech course, the University and the nationwide program agreed to put an emphasis on promoting women in technology fields.

Catherine Nakayenga, a master’s degree student from Uganda studying business intelligence and analytics and working as a RaD Lab intern, is shepherding this younger cohort through the course and providing them with insight on what the tech world can look like.

“We want there to be strong women in tech,” said Nakayenga, who worked as a software engineer after completing her undergraduate education. “And these are some amazing young women. I want to give them a little of what I’ve learned. I’ve been the only woman on a team, I’ve seen what the business is like. I can give them just a glimpse of that and show them that they also can do this.”

Watching the women unpack their computers reminded Nakayenga of when her first Raspberry Pi kit arrived at her home in 2015. “It was shipped from the U.S. and when it came, I was so excited,” she said. “I remember I just got it out and put it together as fast as I could. And the rest is history.”

The high-schoolers will spend this final week of the course coding a game of their devising on their Raspberry Pi units. It’s the culmination of their experiences over the past month, which included stitching together photographs to create a three-dimensional image for augmented and virtual reality programs, and fabricating chairs for “The Simpsons” characters Ralph Wiggum and Maggie Simpson as part of the design thinking portion of the class.

While not all the women are planning a career in technology, each said they see areas where their anticipated vocation would cross over with what they’ve learned.

“I can definitely see where coding can be useful,” said Annette Ordonez, a student at Omaha Benson High School who plays violin and trombone and hopes to pursue a career in music. “It’s at least something to consider. Who knows? You seem to find coding a lot of places these days.”

Yousrah Abdulrazig, a student at Westside High School, said the exposure to different kind of technology like the Raspberry Pi computers and virtual and augmented reality, helped her realize there’s a lot going on when she flips on her laptop or calls up information on her phone.

“It’s cool to learn the behind-the-scenes stuff that’s going on in coding,” she said. “I’ve gotten a better understanding of how things work and some confidence that I can do those things, too.”

While the course has focused on the digital, Craig said there’s also been an emphasis on using abstract thinking and problem-solving, generally. In the design-thinking exercise of creating a chair for a Simpsons character, the students were given biographies and materials on which they could meditate and then manufacture the best design based on what they knew of the character.

“They had to be analytical but also empathetic,” Craig said. “The hope is that they can look at a challenge and make some determinations about it, including whether that challenge is really the right one for them to solve or if there’s another issue that they should consider. They got a chance to ideate, to throw out as many wild ideas as they could. It’s that diversity of thought that we’re hoping they can use.”

After the design-thinking exercise, students met with Aminatu Issake of the Center for Promoting Health and Health Equity’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health office at Creighton, and worked on a real-world design-thinking challenge related to relieving the backlog of DNA testing in forensics.

The young women all agreed that the course had opened new portals of thinking and given them tools that they can now spread into their communities.

“I saw a lot of people coding and I always thought it would be interesting to try,” said Stacy Yebe, a student at Omaha North High School. “But I didn’t really give it a closer look until I came here and saw that, yes, I could do it. Now, we’re creating this game out of basically thin air. I feel like we’re figuring it out.”

This science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program is supported by Upward Bound, Cox Business and Creighton University volunteers.


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