Girl Scouts guided through hackathon

March 30, 2017

A computer science student helps a troop of girl scouts with building an application on a laptop

Mobile phone technology — and the coding skills required to develop it — can serve a greater purpose than simply feeding our gaming and social media habits. This was what 50 Girl Scouts learned at the second annual Quinnipiac Girl Scouts Hackathon, held on our York Hill Campus on March 25.

“Mobile apps are really great targets for coding these days,” said computer science professor and hackathon host Jon Blake. “You’ll find mobile phones all over the world, even in developing countries.”

The event had the girls work in teams of five to design and develop a mobile app for the benefit of a specific non-profit organization that had been assigned to them. The teams interviewed organization representatives to gauge their needs for a hypothetical project, giving them the experience of being real consultants.

Each team was also assigned a mentor to help with the initial meeting, lead them through design exercises, techniques and processes and help them transition from the design phase to the coding phase.

Hackathon mentor and computer science major Kaitlin Friscia’s team worked with the Partnership in Learning and Creative Exploration, a non-profit that strives to educate children on cultural diversity through artwork.

“They had an art museum they were trying to fund and build,” Friscia ‘19 explained. “I worked with my team to build an app that would incorporate all of the necessary information about P.L.A.C.E., and the benefits of their museum.”

The teams spent their morning focused on visual design, and devoted the afternoon to building their app utilizing Appinventor, a highly accessible web tool used for coding mobile Android-based applications.

“These kids were dropped off in the morning as mobile users. When they were picked up that afternoon, they were mobile inventors,” Blake said. “It was just incredible to see their parent’s reactions.”

One of the most important things the Hackathon does is allow kids the chance to step into the role of creator, Blake said.

“They should know that they are not separated from that,” he said. “They already know how to use things — why shouldn’t they be able to actually produce something?”

As a computer science major and a woman who hopes to make her career in the STEM field, Friscia hopes that her example will spur the girls to continue to develop their skills.

“I hope that I inspired them to become more involved in computing and engineering,” she said, “and maybe look at each as potential future career paths.”

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