Even though she grew up in Madison, Winnie Karanja knew nothing about software giant Epic Systems until she graduated from college.
Now the founder of Maydm, a non profit organization that works with girls and students of color to introduce and encourage careers in technology, she said she doesn’t want that same experience for students today.
“We live so close to one of the biggest drivers of millennials (in STEM),” Karanja said. “And I want to make sure students know this exists and it is a space for them.”
To feed that desire and simultaneously recognize national Computer Science Education Week, the M2E2 event returns Saturday, Dec. 7 at Epic Systems headquarters in Verona.
“If we are not encouraging girls and communities of color (to go into tech careers), the products we have will only be reflective of certain communities and have bias built into them,” Karanja said.
High school and middle school students from the Madison area are encouraged to register for the event. The day consists of building 3D animated stories using ALICE software and Block programing. Students will design background settings and characters who can walk, sing and talk.
Students will also program a micro-bit, which is a piece of hardware developed by Microsoft. Students can program the wearable technology to do several things, like play tic-tac-toe or flash their name across the screen.
Karanja said the activities are designed for a wide range of learners and students of different interests. There is something for narrative learners, tactile learners and students who are interested in art or video games.
Although coding seems hard and challenging, it is truly about being a creative problem solver through a different lens, Karanja said. While students are programing the micro-bit, their minds will ask, “I want to program the micro-bit to play tic-tac-toe, how do I do that?”
She hopes this annual event will demystify and break down the technology stereotypes for students. There is a perception about who works in STEM and what those people look like, Karanja said.
“I want students to start to see themselves as developers and (know), ‘I don’t have to shed a part of myself to be a developer.’” On a typical day Karanja said, “I just got back from getting my nails done and am listening to Drake while writing code.”
Volunteers from the sponsors like American Family Insurance, GE HealthCare, Epic and TDS plan to be present to walk students through the activities.
Karanja is excited students will get to work with local developers while simultaneously having fun engaging in STEM.
The cost is $25 and scholarships are available. The event is Saturday, Dec. 7 breakfast and lunch is included. Middle schoolers participate 8 a.m. to noon and high schoolers participate noon to 5 p.m. Transportation is included from three locations: Madison College Truax Campus, Memorial High School and Madison College Goodman South Campus.