On Saturday, October 26, the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at Lewis University offered another session of its Girls Create With Technology program. The series, sponsored by AT&T’s Aspire program and led by Dr. Cindy Kersey, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, aims to introduce high school girls to the exciting field of Computer Science. In this latest session, Dr. Kersey taught the girls how to create mobile applications for Android devices using AppInventor, an easy-to-use but very powerful programming tool developed by Google and now maintained by MIT. The girls created a picture editing tool that allowed them to embellish a photo by tracing on it with their fingers, as well as a video game that involved tapping on a fast-moving on-screen mole to make it disappear, sort of like the old whac-a-mole game. The participants were helped by Prof. Margaret Juraco and Computer Science seniors Jessica Dreher and Dave Perich.
The Girls Create with Technology series began with a four-day session during July in which the participants built robots out of craft materials and Hummingbird microcontroller kits and then programmed them to move in response to external stimuli using a graphical programming language called Snap. Then, in September, the participants returned to campus to experiment with programming Finch robots to navigate through a maze using on-board Raspberry Pi computers running Python code as the control units. Robotics is one example of a field called pervasive computing, the notion that computers need not come in the form of a desktop or laptop but may be embedded in devices whose primary function isn’t to compute but rather to serve some other purpose. Mobile application development is yet another example of pervasive computing, as it involves providing computational power in a non-traditional form factor. That’s what the girls had a chance to learn today.
Pervasive computing is an important direction for Computer Science these days. In fact, Lewis’ Computer Science department has a laboratory called Ubiquitous Computing whose primary purpose is to provide an environment for learning these important skills. The Department offers classes in mobile applications development, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, as well as a brand new course called Introduction to Robotics, which will be offered for the first time in Spring 2014.
Future sessions of the Girls Create with Technology program will teach the participants how to create database-driven websites, how to build mobile apps using a professional programming language, and how to develop video games. This is an exciting program with a critically important purpose, and Dr. Kersey is to be commended for leading it so well.