Drone-building event encourages girls in tech

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published April 25, 2018

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — There’s no denying that careers in information and communications technology are male-dominated, but Baker College is helping to change that.

On April 26, six Baker College campus sites — Clinton Township, Allen Park, Auburn Hills, Flint, Jackson and Owosso — will host about 130 female students in grades six through nine for “International Girls in Information and Communication Technology Day.” The event aims to create a global environment that empowers and encourages young women to consider careers in the area’s growing fields.

Participating students were recruited through reaching out to local middle school and high school principals and counselors, offering these teens the opportunity to build and program their own drones — as well as learn to protect them using cyber defense and cybersecurity strategies. It will require the girls to utilize skills in engineering, programming and other ICT disciplines.

Richard Bush is the statewide Dean of College Information Technology at all nine Baker College campuses. He said women in the industry are terribly underrepresented, though it’s nothing new. For the past 20 years, through work in school districts and by conducting his own computer programming at age 16, he has attempted to bring female representation into the field.

“This is an opportunity for us to introduce young girls at a very vulnerable age to the excitement and creativity that is information and communication technology, and to build their confidence and have a good time,” Bush said, adding that men have dominated the field “for far too long.”

He said the process of recruiting female students was very organic, with students’ parents jumping at the opportunity to offer young women a different career path than what used to be the norm.

A successful pilot event was conducted last year in Muskegon. Staffing and resources have led to six campuses participating this year. Students will be able to build and fly drones and learn about the dynamics of coding. Then, faculty members will attempt to hack the drones and teach the students about cybersecurity.

“I love the fact that the parents of these young women really want them to have an opportunity to experience these things,” he said.

Patty Kaufman, president of the college’s Clinton Township campus, said approximately 15 girls from local school districts including Clintondale Community Schools, Lakeview Public Schools and Warren Consolidated Schools will be present at her location.

Last August, the campus ran a STEM camp and reached out to potential targets in specific career fields. Corporate sponsors include First State Bank, Consumers Energy, the Rotary Club of Mount Clemens, Complete Interactive Technologies Inc. and the National Defense Industrial Association. Some help lead these students toward careers at places like TACOM and Selfridge Air National Guard Base.

Kaufman said Macomb County is a “hotbed” of inclusivity and opportunities for all genders, races and nationalities, with job fields involving engineering, computer science, health science and cybersecurity offering more marketable wages than traditional female-oriented careers. She said only about 22 to 25 percent of engineering or STEM-related jobs are currently filled by women.

“I think that the women in communications and technology and the defense field are really helping us get the word out,” she said. “The county is proactive and progressive.”

Continuing to get more women interested can be done by encouraging campus tours, STEM camps, job shadowing women already in such fields, getting advisement from career preparation counselors, and providing curriculum in high schools.

It’s about bridging that gap between what is possible and what is already present.

“We hope the girls will walk away with a lot of ideas and interests,” Bush said.

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