Conestoga news

May 15, 2024 9:52 AM

Go CODE Girl event welcomes youth to learn more about coding, AI and gaming

Conestoga opened the doors of its state-of-the-art esports hub and Virtual and Augmented Reality Lab (VARLab) to girls and non-binary youth to explore the worlds of coding, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality and esports.

Go CODE Girl.jpg
Girls and non-binary youth were invited to explore the worlds of coding, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality and esports at Conestoga's state-of-the-art esports hub and Virtual and Augmented Reality Lab (VARLab).

The School of Applied Computer Science & Information Technology hosted the day for Grades 7 to 10 students on May 4.

The free event at the Waterloo campus included hands-on workshops, augmented reality experiences and gaming for the youth, as well as a panel discussion and tour for parents.

Becky Smith and her daughter Peyton came all the way from Listowel to find out more about the technology and related programs offered at Conestoga.

“I wanted to try something new and I’ve never done coding before,” the Grade 8 student said.

Peyton attends a smaller school with limited opportunities, definitely not an event like this that lets students try their hand at new skills as well as Conestoga’s well-equipped esports and VARLab.

“It’s a cool opportunity that isn’t available in our area,” Smith said.

Joining the panel to hear more about career options interested Smith, who was eager to learn more about these rapidly growing industries. Alumni Megan Bradshaw would have appreciated listening to a similar panel when she was researching which program would be best for her before deciding on Software Engineering Technology at Conestoga.

“I was looking for something that would let me get into technology that was varied,” Bradshaw said. “This seemed like a really good option.”

Working as a software engineer in the region since graduating in spring 2022, Bradshaw hoped she could inspire others to become Conestoga students and show parents that the field is opening up to women. “It’s becoming more accessible.”

Go CODE Girl is all about giving young girls and non-binary youth the chance to explore possible careers by creating a welcoming space where they can try out different activities.

In the coding workshop, participants started with an icebreaking exercise where they were given an index card with a problem - like everyone forgets how to tie their shoes - that they needed to dream up an invention to solve.

Technology is all about problem solving, explained activity leader Gavin Abeele, a bachelor of computer science student at Conestoga.

“You’re getting a problem and you’re trying to think of a solution to mitigate the problem.”

Participants then jumped into a web-programming activity that covered the basic elements of coding by adding and fixing elements of a simple website. That’s what brought out Grade 7 student Bridget Martin, who wanted to learn more about coding.

“I don’t really know much about it and I wanted to work on my skills,” she said. “I think it was really cool. You could input what you wanted the website to say.”

Stella Fowler, whose father works in IT and signed her up, thinks it would be fun to make a video game and this was a good place to start learning about how that’s done.

“I do like coding,” she said. “It’s really cool to find out how computers work.”

The girls also joined an activity on machine learning and artificial intelligence, in which they taught the computer to learn how to recognize the rock, paper and scissors hand signals. They took turns demonstrating the different moves for the camera to capture and the computer to sort the images into groups. Then its learning was tested out by pulling in someone new to make the different shapes for the computer to identify, hopefully correctly based on all the examples shown.

“Machine learning is based on rules,” Abeele explained.

Next it was onto the VARLab and esports hub for hands-on fun. The group was immersed in virtual reality, hearing how it’s an important tool to train how to safely perform dangerous jobs or use expensive machinery, and got to try out any of the games or equipment in the esports hub.

Jacqueline Smith, program manager in the School of Applied Computer Science & Information Technology, said the day is all about encouraging interest and excitement in the young women about the myriad opportunities in technology.

“And before, we want to nurture curiosity,” Smith said.

That’s the case for both participants and parents, who learned about different careers that can be pursued as well as the support services available to Conestoga students to help them succeed.

Stepping into the world of technology can be intimidating, but it’s hoped the experience could inspire them to think about the potential jobs, she said. “This type of event can take away some mystery.”

Go CODE Girl was hosted in partnership with the Ontario Network of Women in Engineering (ONWiE) and Engineering, Technology and Trades for Women (ETT4W), an initiative started at Conestoga to foster women’s participation and success in engineering, technology and trades through educational programs, outreach and events, and student supports.

Conestoga’s School of Applied Computer Science & Information Technology offers a 21st-century education that prepares graduates for exciting careers in the innovative world of information and communications technology. Project-based and work-integrated learning enables students to solve real-world problems and engage in new technologies that empower a professional journey in a rapidly growing sector.