What happens when you combine a group of middle school girls, add some enthusiastic ACM-W volunteers, and a few distinguished professors from the CSE department? It culminates in an evening of a computer science known as Buck-I-Code, an outreach workshop. Saturday, February 28th marked the third iteration of this great event and despite sub-zero temperatures, receiving the attention of about 20 middle school girls.
Throughout the event, they took part in lectures and workshops showcasing the opportunities and careers available with a Computer Science and Engineering degree. Participation was free and no programming experience was needed. Interestingly, many of the girls at the Buck-I-Code event said they had programmed before with MIT's SCRATCH, Java, and/or C. Talk about being ahead of the game!
Dr. Paul Sivilotti kicked-off the activities presenting the increasing need for computer science and the endless possibilities of Computer Science applications. Comparing programs to recipes and each instruction to a step, he vividly illustrated the components and structure of programs. After that, the young women began using SCRATCH by MIT to complete a series of objectives including saving a turtle on the beach and pinning fire breathing dragons against fluttering butterflies. They excitedly began typing away, eager to program solutions for each objective.
Other highlights included a Jeopardy! match against Dr. Christopher Stewart's Open Ephyra system (resembling IBM's Watson) and a message from Dr. Roger Crawfis about his game development research which assists stroke patients. Additionally, the girls were introduced to HTML and were given the opportunity to create their own web pages.
This event gave the organizers information as well. Jon Ruben, a graduating senior and creator of the event, compiled survey results from all three Buck-I-Code workshops which totaled to 77 girls. He found that 97% of the girls said that they would recommend or consider recommending Buck-I-Code to a friend, and 57% said that they were more likely to pursue a career in technology or Computer Science. The surveys also included some comments from the girls such as "It was great!" and "leaving" was the worst part. With such an early exposure to programming, there is no limit on what these girls can achieve in the near future.