Jennifer Winikus, a teaching assistant professor of Computer Engineering at the University of Buffalo, knew she was going to be an engineer since she was seven. STEM clubs and courses she took at a technical high school bolstered Winikus’ interest in engineering.
But later, she discovered that this early supportive environment seemed to be the exception, rather than the rule. As an undergraduate at Alfred University, she and the three other female students in her program struggled to prove that they “belonged” in their program.
“It was definitely a game along with the three other female students to make sure we were always the best in the class at everything because it didn’t seem as ‘bad’ that way,” she recounts.
While attitudes have changed in the last decade or so, Winikus believes there’s still a social pressure against girls going into technical fields. Engineering remains a male-dominated field.
That' why Winikus hope to change perceptions with UB’s CSExplore, a three-day computer science and engineering summer camp for high school girls that she's helping to organize along with Carl Alphonce and Kris Shindler, UB associate professors of Computer Science and Computer Engineering respectively,
“[The camp] is a clear signal to young women that they absolutely have a place in computing, that they have valuable contributions to make," says Winikus. "We are creating an environment in which they can focus on learning about all that computing has to offer, rather than worrying about having to demonstrate that they belong,”
Also, Winikus hopes that students will continue to explore computer and engineering and science, and maybe take up computing as a future career.
Over the course of three eight-hour days, CSExplore students will get to experience many aspects of computer engineering and computer science, going beyond coding and building circuitry.
They’ll be using Scratch, a block- based programming environment to build games and program robots. For hardware, they’ll be using the Arduino UNO and use the sophisticated Arduino API (application programming interface). Students will be working on integrated circuits and digital logic, which are fundamental to computer engineering. Some of the projects they will work on including programming a robot and designing a video game.
The CSExplore students won’t be the only ones learning from the program. Several female undergraduate UB students will join Winikus, Schindler, and Alphonce. They will assist in coming up with creative activities to teach the concepts covered in the course.
No previous computer science or engineering background is required. The camp will take place August 23-25 at UB’s North Campus. The $255 cost includes lunch, a t-shirt and lab kit to keep. To learn more and to register, please visit https://www.cse.buffalo.edu/summer/.