As a girl growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, my first glimpse into technology was through my Blip and Merlin games. I knew computers were big and powerful, but not much more. Fed largely by The Jetsons, I was fascinated with what I perceived were the possibilities.
I wrote an essay for 7th grade career day on keypunch operators, and when our junior high school acquired six RadioShack TRS-80 computers a year later, I raced to sign up for the new computer club. I was the only girl. After several weeks of coding, I finished my “run” program and giggled aloud as I watched the “man” (made up of Xs) move across the screen in a running motion.
Unfortunately, in high school there were no computer classes nor technology curriculum, so I learned to type on an IBM Selectric. I stopped taking math and science after 10th grade because they weren’t required, they were hard, and my guidance counselor advised that, as a girl, I’d probably never need them. No one mentioned math and science were a gateway to the exciting technology I dabbled in during computer club.
Jump ahead to my sophomore year in college when my roommate’s boyfriend built me a “286” computer with a 20 MB hard drive. He added a modem the following semester, and the glorious, screeching sound that led to internet connection made lifting it into the car to take it home worth every strained muscle.
Computers Back in My Life to Stay
Computers were back in my life to stay, but it was after college when I truly started to understand technology.
After graduation, I joined a company formed by an ex-IBMer with $1,000 in his pocket and the desire to start a business. By the time I arrived, the company was a technology leader with data centers, tape reels, print centers, raised floors and a vernacular all its own.
I loved every minute of it.
Soon, the industry started to realize the treasure in its trove of data and the value behind having a lot of it. We branched rapidly into things formerly reserved for sci-fi movies, and we have now taught that data to think for and learn from itself. Data and technology have become universal key players, from corporate strategy to daily life (“Alexa, re-order dog food!”). And at the Google I/O Developer Conference, there was a demonstration of Google Duplex interacting with people when calling to make a hair appointment and a restaurant reservation.
Society continues to expand its wings to fly with technology. Today, we encourage…and even demand…technology curriculum in schools for boys and girls. I am extremely lucky to work in a technology- and data-centric company that supports equality in the workplace and STEM education in schools.
Given my early school experience, preparing kids for a future in technology and furthering women in technology are passions of mine, so I jumped at the chance to represent Geneia, along with Molly Gallaher Boddy, on an advisory board for the University of New Hampshire's STEM Discovery Lab. I’m thrilled to play a part in bringing awareness, education and opportunity to young minds ripe for learning.
UNH’s STEM Discovery Lab goes beyond just teaching technology to kids. Their 2017-2019 work priorities are, in part, to “…work…with local partners to develop new programs and increase participation of K-12 educators, volunteers and underrepresented youth…(in) the content areas of Computer Science and Biotechnology, and on working with English Learner students.
Translated, they are focusing specific attention on offering computer science and biotech summer and afterschool programs for underrepresented youth, with a goal of reaching those who do not have English as their first language. This requires even more planning than a traditional program: bringing programs to schools that have a population of underserved youth is ambitious, and they have the added challenge of overcoming language barriers in a way that doesn’t dampen the excitement or hinder the learning process.
Creativity and forming partnerships are the keys to finding new ways to forge bonds and retain interest while building better pathways for communication. There are several events already scheduled aimed in exactly this direction. The STEM Discovery Lab is a place where kids and educators can explore those passions – without judgment or fear. For details on the programs they offer and how to visit or apply for one, visit https://manchester.unh.edu/research/stem-discovery-lab.
As I sit here today, I’m surrounded by the irony of the past and the opportunity of the future. Something I had a spark of interest in during junior high school but no encouragement to pursue is now a place where I focus most of my waking hours. It’s richly fulfilling to think I’m playing a part in kids having an opportunity to find and explore their passions. Through their wide-eyed excitement, I see what Eleanor Roosevelt saw: the future really does belong to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.