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Scientists and high school girls collaborate

A group of girls participating in the Technovation Challenge brainstorm with the help of their mentor, Michele Dunlavy of Berkeley Labs' Information Technologies.

In 2008, more women graduated from undergraduate institutions in the United States than men. Despite that fact, only 17.7% of students who received bachelors degrees in computer science were women.

Although many factors underly those statistics, the Technovation Challenge is designed to address one in particular: the level of interest teenage girls have in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

Every Tuesday afternoon, a group of more than 60 high school girls from Berkeley and Albany, California, visits the U.S. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for a series of 10 two-hour workshops to develop science education apps for Android smart phones.

Split into five-member teams, the girls are being mentored by 20 women who work at Berkeley Lab. The girls have the  task of coming up with their own ideas for an app related to science education, then vetting the idea by running it by potential users. Once they develop the app, they will also need to come up with a business plan and pitch their idea to a panel of judges on April 28. Judges will select one app to compete in a similar judging of winning apps from sessions held around the Bay Area and in other states. The winning app will be professionally developed and distributed on the Android Market.

"It's really exciting for both them and us—there are a lot of creative ideas in my group," said Amy Chen, a mentor and member of the Biological Data Management and Technology Department. "All of the girls in my group have taken or are taking biology class, so they are considering a bio application. They also play a lot of games, so they have ideas on how to make the app interesting and add some cool factors."

A member of the Computing Sciences Diversity Working Group, Chen said she volunteered because she wants to help encourage more girls to enter STEM fields. "To do that, we need to start working with them before they enter college and choose a major," she said.

The program is developed by Technovation Challenge, which is a program of Iridescent, a non-profit organization dedicated to science and technology education. The Technovation Challenge aims to promote women in technology by giving girls the skills and confidence they need to be successful in computer science and entrepreneurship.

"It's been an exciting few weeks as the girls have been brainstorming app ideas and are starting to determine their target market. It's been wonderful to watch the teams come together and get excited about programming their app and learning about entrepreneurship," said AnnaLise Hoopes, Director of Educational and Corporate Partnerships for Iridescent. "The mentors from Berkeley Lab have been an invaluable source of support for the girls, and their expertise in both science and technology is a huge asset to the program. We are very grateful for the lab's support!"

A version of this article first appeared on the Berkeley Lab website.

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