Mason Guild guides more women into computing

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Break Through Tech’s mission to propel more women into computing is off to a good start with the first Mason Guild program ending July 30.

"You're all now a part of the Break Through Tech family," says Break Through Tech DC director Donna White to the group of over 60 women from George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College.

Starting on July 26, they met via Zoom for a week-long program to introduce women to computing in meaningful ways. Sponsored by Break Through Tech DC, faculty and teaching assistants from Mason’s Department of Computer Science and Department of Information Sciences and Technology taught students the basics of computing and the unique opportunities a computing degree can provide. 

At the start of the week, the instructors divided students into teams and challenged them to design, code, and test an app that solves educational technology problems. Pati Ruiz from the nonprofit Digital Promise inspired the students on the possibilities of educational technology.

Participants could focus on any angle and level of education, from helping elementary school teachers to college students. Students learned how to code throughout the week and then applied their knowledge to their project and other exercises, like designing an adventure app using AppLab.

Industry mentors from Microsoft, MasterCard, Booz Allen, and Verizon met with students throughout the week to share insight into computing careers.

In Monday’s session, mentors shared something they are still learning in their careers. “Technology. It is always changing, and in this field, I am always learning new things,” says mentor Jan Adams. And this sentiment was reiterated throughout Guild.

“You need to stay ahead on new technology,” says Candace Williams from Microsoft. “You have to compete with the boys.”

Additionally, mentors helped students test their apps for usability. “You need to empathize with your user because at the end of the process, what you develop is meant for someone else,” says Shvetha Soundararajan, Break Through Tech DC co-site lead and assistant professor of computer science.

At the end of the week, student teams presented their projects to faculty, mentors, and friends. “The final projects showed a lot of thought put into solving real-world educational technology problems. The attendees applied the design thinking process, and with the help of their mentors, created brilliant app prototypes,” says Shahnaz Kamberi, an instructor for Guild and associate professor of computer science.

Teams made apps that included interactive games and resources to help college students manage their time and plan their degrees, teach elementary-aged children various subjects, and support teachers and parents with their children’s education.

“When posing the design challenge to the teams, we acknowledged that there are several apps available today and emphasized that their solutions should be unique. We encouraged the participants to consider the unique selling proposition of their app,” says Soundararajan. “The teams enthusiastically met the challenge and created innovative, unique, and much-needed EdTech solutions. Their final presentations and demos were outstanding. Several participants remarked that they would like to fully implement their apps, and I eagerly look forward to using those.”

In addition to the Guild program, Break Through Tech DC has other upcoming initiatives to expand the number of women in computing. On August 16, applications will open for their winter Sprinternship program, a paid mini-internship experience in tech that includes a series of career development workshops.