WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. — The Monmouth University Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering, in conjunction with Random Hacks of Kindness Junior (RHoKJr), hosted its first Random Hacks of Kindness Junior: Kids Coding for A Cause event on October 28, 2017 in the School of Science atrium.
Nearly 50 female students in grades four through eight participated in the daylong event. Students were divided into 13 teams, with each team working on behalf of a local nonprofit organization, guided by a computer science and software engineering student and/or an alumna mentor.
Once the teams were devised, the nonprofit representative assigned to each group described their organization and assisted the participants in understanding how it helps people. Working together, they brainstormed ideas for an app that could support the organization or its stakeholders. The students were guided by their Monmouth mentor to follow an identified process for developing requirements and a design, and students pitched their ideas to the nonprofit.
Using an open source coding tool, MIT App Inventor, the students learned the basics of app design and the idea creation and brainstorming processes required to build a successful prototype mobile application.
While designing, creating and testing the apps, the attendees were able to interact with their fellow student collaborators and their computing mentor while learning more about local humanitarian efforts.
“Random Hacks of Kindness Junior’s mission of combining social need with computer programming makes a lasting impression on young girls,” said Patrice Gans, founder and executive director of RoHKJr. “Together, RHoKJr and the dedicated professors and computer science majors from Monmouth University, were able to bring coding to these girls and provide them with the opportunity to see themselves as programmers and agents of change.”
The nonprofit representatives were pleased with the application ideas that the participants had created for them. Parents and students both were astonished by what the children were able to create during the course of a single day.
“Inviting Random Hacks of Kindness Junior to run their ‘coding for a cause’ event at Monmouth University was a huge step toward building an ‘I can code!’ confidence in these young women, something essential given the current inequality in the computing workforce,” said Jamie Kretsch, chair of the department of computer science and software engineering.
Kretsch said she believes it is essential for Monmouth to encourage young female students to explore this field. “I consider it our responsibility to help make students aware of opportunities that they might not otherwise learn about. We also know firsthand that there is an imbalance in female technologists and that positive change must begin with young girls and their families. This event, I believe, helped educate the families as much as the youngsters.”
According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, 1.1 million U.S. computing-related job openings are expected by the year 2024 and, as of 2016, women held only 26 percent of professional computing occupations.
“The products, experiences, entertainment — really, everything we use today — revolve around technology and are not gender-specific. That makes it even more essential that design and development be shared by representatives of all segments of the population, regardless of gender. By offering programs like this, we can help contribute to the solution,” Kretsch said.
Monmouth University offers a variety of computer science and software engineering degrees, including bachelor’s and master’s degrees and a minor in Computer Science, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Software Engineering, and an M.S. in Information Systems.
Local nonprofits that participated in this event included STEAMpark, Coastal Communities Family Success Center, Redeem-Her, Family Resource Associates, Inc., CPC Behavioral Healthcare, Lunch Break, 180 Turning Lives Around, The Seeing Eye, Inc., Mary’s Place by the Sea.
For more information on Monmouth University Computer Science and Software Engineering, visit www.monmouth.edu/CSSE.
For more information on Random Hacks of Kindness Junior, visit http://rhokjr.org/.