Through CodeCrush, girls to learn how IT education can enhance careers

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Posted: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 12:00 am

Grace Dana wants to be a veterinarian, though her friends think she has a talent for writing.

At 13, the Laurel, Neb., eighth-grader has options, and the University of Nebraska at Omaha will make the case this week that whatever field she pursues, she consider enhancing her career with an information science and technology education.

Grace is one of 30 eighth- and ninth-grade girls chosen for a new five-day information technology immersion program, called CodeCrush, starting today on campus. The students will have the opportunity thanks to the Women in IT Initiative fundraising effort that UNO launched in May.

Grace will learn the basics of cybersecurity and how to write code for a mobile app. She’ll tour First Data and get a behind-the-scenes look at how the Henry Doorly Zoo uses technology. She’ll learn from UNO information technology students about campus programs and life.

And she’ll learn about opportunities after college, hearing from UNO alumnae and from Omaha entrepreneurs about the job market and careers here.

The university and a volunteer task force of industry professionals are raising $400,000 for this and other programs that will introduce girls to careers in IT. UNO hopes to double the number of women in its College of Information Science & Technology and expand the pipeline of skilled IT workers in the Omaha-area labor force.

The money will cover this “immersion experience” as well as mentoring, recruiting, scholarships and summer workshops and internships.

Seventy-one students, some from as far as Gering, Neb., Iowa City and Watertown, S.D., competed for 30 openings. They were nominated by their schools and wrote an essay as part of the application.

Grace lives with her parents near Laurel, where they manage a herd of Charolais cattle. Her parents both have science careers: Logan Dana is farm operations manager at the Haskell Agricultural Laboratory at Concord, and Staci Dana is a microbiologist, testing meat at Tyson Foods in Dakota City.

Grace’s teacher nominated her to participate in the UNO event after noticing that she showed an interest when they participated in the Hour of Code, a nationwide computer science education initiative.

She isn’t necessarily interested in a career as a software engineer, but that’s not what UNO is after. The school takes an interdisciplinary approach, showing students ways that technology overlaps with other fields.

“These days more jobs, they demand, or are at least biased toward, people with interdisciplinary backgrounds,” said Hesham Ali, dean of the College of Information Science & Technology. “You don’t have to do one thing at the expense of another.”

Eighth- and ninth-graders are at a point where they are beginning to think about careers and potential college majors but still have time to take the necessary math and science courses to prepare.

While the girls are immersed in activities, their teachers also will be learning. UNO wants to equip teachers to bring some of the lessons, software, resources and enthusiasm back home.

“We want the impact to be broader than just this group of 30 girls,” Ali said.

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