Pearl Hacks draws female coders from across the nation

“Every single one of you are makers.”

These words from Dona Sarkar kicked off UNC Chapel Hill’s recent Pearl Hacks event. Sarkar is an engineer manager at Microsoft, author, and fashion designer, and this past weekend she was in Chapel Hill inspiring an audience of over 600 high school and college-age women gathered to create through hacking.

As hackathons grow in popularity, Pearl Hacks is unique in that it specifically encourages women to become more involved in technology, a field in which they are woefully underrepresented or even discouraged from participation. Consider the fact that, according to Girls Who Code, women today represent 12 percent of all computer science graduates, while in 1984 they represented 37 percent, and the need for events such as Pearl Hacks becomes very real.

According to Pearl Hacks organizers, “hacking…[is] breaking your ideas out of the confines of your mind and learning how to make them a reality.” Their two-day event open to women across the U.S. is structured to facilitate this process even for the uninitiated. The first morning and afternoon offer a variety of workshops organized from beginner to more advanced levels.

After dinner on the first day, the real work begins. With the help of volunteer mentors, participants form teams, brainstorm, and create a functional product using coding and sometimes hardware. This all happens before lunch on the second day, when teams gather to demo their results in competition for an array of prizes offered by local sponsors.

HelpMe appFirst place at this year’s event went to the creators of HelpMe, an android app that syncs with the Pebble watch to allow users to notify their emergency contact if they find themselves in a dangerous situation. While pressing a button on the Pebble watch can trigger the HelpMe notification, the notification can also be triggered by an accelerometer that senses free fall motion. This is a particularly handy feature for the elderly, who may fall and be unable to get up without help. The first place winners received all expense paid trips to Global Hackathon Seoul in South Korea and Dell Android tablets.

Other prizes were awarded for creations as varied as a game to teach students about sexual health, an app to allow young women going out in groups to keep tabs on each other for safety, and a league watch app for following the latest scores.

The creative and useful final projects created by Pearl Hacks teams, combined with their enthusiasm for learning, drove home another key point made by Sarkar in her speech:

“The [next generation of tech] is going to be led by the people in this room.”

– Stephanie Suber


Interested in attending a hackathon and can’t wait until next year’s Pearl Hacks? UNC Chapel Hill will be hosting a co-ed hackathon, HackNC, October 25-26.

 

NC FIRST Robotics program grooms science and tech heroes of the future

There has been a growing buzz in the media about the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education and the struggle to ensure students receive enough of it in public schools. Part of the reason for this intense focus is that the U.S. Department of Labor expects there will be 1.2 million job openings in STEM related fields by 2018, but there won’t be enough qualified graduates to fill those jobs.

According to a Harris Interactive survey, many students who choose a math or science career interacted with a teacher or participated in a program that inspired them and helped launch their STEM career path. NC FIRST Robotics, which was created to help students acquire the knowledge and skills needed to compete in our technologically-driven society, is one such program.  Read more…

Finding common ground in the Social Computing Room

A delegation from Kyrgyzstan views biopsy slides in the RENCI Social Computing Room.

A delegation from Kyrgyzstan views biopsy slides in the RENCI Social Computing Room.

Science, like music, is an international language. No matter their cultural, ethnic, or religious backgrounds, no matter if they conduct fieldwork in the U.S. or run a lab in central Asia, scientists always seem able to find common ground.

It’s a fact all competent science communicators understand, and one I was reminded of when a delegation of science and technology professionals from Kyrgyzstan visited RENCI’s Social Computing Room (SCR) on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus on Feb. 12. The group, comprised primarily of women with backgrounds in mathematics, software engineering, and information science, journeyed half way around the world to participate in the Open World Program, a U.S. exchange program that supports and encourages current and future leaders in post-Soviet block countries.

Read more…

TriPython project nights bring community and innovation to RENCI after hours

The Triangle Python Users Group is a local organization that brings together experienced and new enthusiasts of Python, a widely used computer programming language. The group has been active in our area since 2002 but recently had a need for a new meeting space in the Chapel Hill area.

RENCI has opened its doors for a few of the group’s activities. Project nights are now held the second Wednesday of each month at RENCI. The informal project nights bring together new Python users seeking support and assistance with more experienced users. Together, they talk about their projects and potentially create cross collaboration.

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Creekside coders create and engage during “Hour of Code” event

Increasingly, every aspect of society – from education to healthcare – relies on software-driven technology. Even as we rely more often on “smart” devices for all aspects of our daily lives, we may not be producing enough computer scientists and software developers to satisfy our demand for all things tech.

Coding1

Creekside Elementary in Durham hopes students will catch the coding bug at a young age.

According to Code.org, by the year 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer science jobs but only 400,000 computer science students ready to enter the field. Additionally, according to the Computing Research Association, the computer science field suffers from an alarming gender and diversity gap that has not improved over the years – in 2010, less than 14 percent of US and Canadian computer science graduates were women, and only 10 percent were minorities.

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Computer modeling facilitates discussion of coastal hazards

RENCI’s Brian Blanton, PhD, recently gave a talk called “Simulating Storm Surge for Coastal Hazard and Risk Assessment” as part of a Disaster Resilience Symposium held at Virginia Tech.

The goal of the symposium was to facilitate interdisciplinary discussion and collaboration on efforts to reduce the ecological and socioeconomic risks of coastal hazards. Living on a coastline comes with a certain set of risks, and coastal resilience researchers study the most effective ways to ensure coastal communities have the ability to bounce back after events such as tropical cyclones and tsunamis, and the resulting flooding and inundation.

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High performance computing: It really does matter

Better models of coastal storm surge are among  the reasons that HPC matters.

Better models of coastal storm surge are among
the reasons that HPC matters.

Every November thousands of researchers and industry representatives in high performance computing and related fields, such as advanced networking, data storage, and analysis, meet for the annual supercomputing conference.

This year SC14 will bring together computer engineers, software developers, computational scientists, industry CTOs, grad students, and assorted geeks from around the world to New Orleans during the week of November 17. RENCI will be there, sharing information about the iRODS data management platform, the iRODS Consortium, ExoGENI and related projects on Networking Infrastructure as a Service (NIaaS), the National Consortium for Data Science, and other RENCI research projects. Read more…

Hacking for better health

Hacking is not just what computer science students do when they’ve had too much strong coffee.

In 2014, hackathons bring together smart people from a variety of backgrounds for intense, technical problem-solving sessions that often last several days. They are a mainstream method for harnessing brainpower to generate new ideas, business models, products, and technical solutions.

Hacking Pediatrics, held October 18 and 19 at the Microsoft New England R&D Center (yes, the acronym is NERD) was one such Hackathon. About 150 professionals gathered in Cambridge, MA, to spend the weekend developing technologies to improve pediatric healthcare. RENCI’s Ketan Mane attended the invite-only event, and needless to say, he had a productive two days. Read more…

Building better classifiers for reproducible science

RENCI’s Clark Jeffries recently presented a webinar for Orion Bionetworks called “Seeking Best Practices in Classifier Construction and Testing.”

Jeffries is a PhD-level bioinformatics specialist with an interest in interpreting neuroscientific information to better understand and treat psychiatric and neurological conditions. For years he has worked with researchers in the School of Medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill to analyze data and better understand debilitating diseases like schizophrenia.  Read more…

Environmental science infrastructure across continents

 

The CoopEUS conference will be he;d in Helsinki, Finland, starting Sept. 30

The CoopEUS annual meeting will be held in Helsinki, Finland, starting Sept. 30

Infrastructure for research in the environmental sciences shouldn’t be constrained by national boundaries. That’s the idea behind Cooperation EU-US, or CoopEUS.

Launched by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the European Union through its Research Infrastructures action of the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, CoopEUS brings together American and European scientists involved in environmental research projects for collaboration that will facilitate building a truly global and integrated infrastructure to support environmental research.  Read more…

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