Jacksonville University’s recent STEM workshop for high school girls builds on an outreach effort started several years ago designed to grow interest among females in science and technical careers.
A continuation of a program begun in 2011 that was funded in its initial year by the Anita Borg Institute, the workshop this year was funded by the Division of Science and Mathematics and expanded to include Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) activities.
A great collaboration between strongly related departments was initiated as Dr. Huihui Wang, Director of the Engineering Dual Degree at JU, and Dr. Anna Little, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, teamed up with Dr. Mountrouidou to organize and conduct the one-day workshop.
Students from various high schools such as Bishop Kenny, Atlantic Coast, Bolles and Frank H. Peterson Academies learned about STEM careers and also JU’s small class size, high-tech classrooms, unique cross-disciplinary approach, real-world exercises and robust internship offerings.
Computer Science seniors Crystal Armstrong, Scott Jeffas and Rachael Jenkins have been helping for three years with the workshop, while mathematics major Rachael Woods and engineering major Nicole Buczkowski came aboard to help this year as well.
The goal of the outreach workshop is to encourage women, who are highly underrepresented in STEM, to pursue STEM degrees through fun activities and positive role models. There is a high demand for STEM majors on the current job market, and the current production of degrees fails to satisfy it. This lack of STEM majors is occurring even though STEM workers have a higher average income than non-STEM workers, and the number of STEM-related job opportunities is expected to increase by 17 percent over the next decade.
In a country where unemployment rates are increasing, it does not make sense to leave these jobs unfilled or outsourced, Dr. Mountrouidou said. The workshop is an effort to bring women into STEM majors.
The workshop activities included three parts: a computer science activity on mobile application development, a mathematics activity on cryptography, and an engineering activity on 3D printing.
During the first activity, the high school students developed and installed on smartphones and tablets fully functional Android applications and games. In the cryptography activity, students learned about the mathematical background of Caesar ciphers and competed in a game that included decryption of messages. Finally, the students witnessed 3D printing firsthand and designed their own artifacts using Solidworks software.
The students and volunteers had lunch at the cafeteria and took a campus tour led by engineering student Tyler Hardison. In the afternoon, parents were invited for refreshments, a showcase of the projects of the day and an inspirational presentation on women role models from computer science, mathematics and engineering, as well as on what differentiates JU from other schools in terms of STEM.
“In our computer science program, we teach our students how to develop Android and iOS apps,” said Dr. Mountrouidou. “Students put these on the market and earn real-world experience. We participate in programming competitions regularly and compete with other schools in the Southeast. We have an active CS club where we have fun meetings playing video games or organizing talks from alumni such as Matt Kane and David Beach.”
JU also has an active women’s club, the Women In Computer Science (WICS). Members participate in the national event Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. In addition, students receive paid internships (Parsons, Vistacom, GreenShades, Web.com and more) and are steered toward great careers (BCBS, Etchasoft, Morgan Stanley, Qualcom, GreenShades, Parsons, Starfield and others).
Meanwhile, the University’s Engineering program has students of such a high academic level that many finish their dual degree at schools such as Columbia, UF and Georgia Tech. They are active in research and present their work in NCUR and the JU Symposium, and they have an active engineering club.
JU’s Mathematics academic program features small class sizes, innovative use of technology in fully computerized classrooms, close faculty-student interaction and a very active Math Society, said Dr. Little.
“Also, students are encouraged to work on real-world problems through the International Mathematical Competition in Modeling and other venues,” she said. “Because JU is a small school, there is a lot of interdepartmental interaction, and this fosters interdisciplinary learning among the students.”