Want to grow computing? Amazing intern makes a difference!

Katie and Rane

Katie and Rane at GHC 2012

By Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director for Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections

As many of you know by now, I am super passionate about how we are going to double the number of women and ethnic minorities in computer science and informatics across the world. As part of my efforts to take on this achievable but daunting task, I hired two outstanding women (who are pursuing their PhDs) as my interns last summer: Katie Doran and Meagan Rothschild.  Katie will tell you about her research and her experience working with me to grow more women and ethnic minorities in computing.

Before we hear from Katie, let me tell you a little about her. Microsoft Research intern, Katie Doran is pursuing a PhD in computer science at North Carolina State University with an emphasis on educational technologies and serious gaming. She is particularly interested in exploring how emerging games technologies, such as augmented reality and ubiquitous features, can facilitate novel interactions among players and increase learning potential. Katie is heavily involved in the Broadening Participation in Computing Community and leads multiple science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) outreach programs. I had the opportunity to meet Katie during the poster session at the CRA-W Grad Cohort event that Microsoft Research sponsors. I am excited to have her working with me on evaluating ChronoZoom as an educational tool. ChronoZoom is a web-based, interactive visualization of Big History, the broadest possible view of the past stretching from 13.7 billion years ago to today. Our vision is to enable innovative ways of teaching Big History and its various components, and empowering interdisciplinary studies. I’d like to hand this blog over to Katie now to tell you about the exciting projects she’s been working on.

By Katie Doran, Microsoft Interactive Entertainment

In addition to my work on ChronoZoom, which has included hands-on sessions with more than 60 students, I have taken the lead on multiple outreach initiatives. Twice, I was able to bring student groups to the Microsoft Redmond campus for hands-on demos of TouchDevelop and IllumiShare, panels with successful women from across Microsoft, and tours of the Microsoft Home. The first group was all middle-school girls from Girls Gather for Computer Science, a summer camp focusing on hands-on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) activities. Our second group was from the University of Washington’s Math Academy, a program for high-school students from underrepresented groups who are on track to complete the highest level math requirements at their schools before graduation. Both groups of students were phenomenal and left campus with an entirely different perspective on what it would be like to have a career as a computer scientist—especially here at Microsoft. Watching the students’ reactions—as they heard about the breadth of work being done by Microsoft employees here in Building 99, across campus, and around the world—was very encouraging. At the end of both sessions, I went home knowing that each of those students had been exposed to opportunities they never even knew existed. My third outreach event of the summer was attending STARS Celebration 2012 in Hampton, Virginia. STARS, which stands for Students and Technology in Academia, Research, and Service, is an National Science Foundation-funded Broadening Participation in Computing project that focuses on professional development for university students in STEM fields as well as outreach with elementary and high-school students to build and reinforce interest in studying STEM topics. This event was particularly fun for me, because I have been an active member of STARS since 2008. At STARS Celebration, I was able to present on my own work—STEM outreach in Haiti, evaluating outreach, and outreach with game design and development—and the significant work being done by Microsoft Research to promote interest in computer science! I presented two sessions on Microsoft tools for outreach use and both were standing room only.

Everyone in attendance was impressed with the number of free tools that Microsoft makes available for outreach activities, such as TouchDevelop, Kodu, Pex for fun, and Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer. As a NASA Fellow, the highlight for me was getting to show off the incredibly adorable Mars Rover additions to Kodu. Based on the response I received, I expect large numbers of game designers and astronauts in about 10 years! My research and outreach work with Microsoft Research this summer has led me to the biggest annual event for women in computing—the Grace Hopper Celebration 2012 (GHC) in Baltimore, Maryland. I’ve spent the past few weeks working with Rane to organize Microsoft’s presence at GHC. It’s been a big undertaking because Microsoft has an incredible 165 people registered, including six executives and six senior women! It is inspiring to see Microsoft employees taking such an interest in growing the number of women in computer science. With the energy I put towards this effort, it is thrilling to know that the girls I help inspire can apply to a company that is eager to hire, retain, and support exceptional women after they complete their degrees. In addition to being overwhelmed with the amazing presence that Microsoft has here, I’ve been busy supporting Anita’s Quilt, a blog from the Anita Borg Institute that allows remarkable women in technical fields to motivate and empower one another through their stories. I’ve been handing out stickers and sharing the story of Anita’s Quilt. Lastly,  I had the opportunity to attend the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Award Winners Reception. They are an impressive group of brilliant, enthusiastic high-school girls who are going to go on to be the next leaders in computer science.

As you can probably tell, I am passionate about both technology and encouraging and supporting women in technology.  For me, the two go hand in hand.  There are many possible ways to encourage the next generation; I encourage you to mentor , contribute to an outreach program, or start a local group.

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