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Hoping to make an impact

Siena program exposes young people to the growing field of computer science

Catherine Lowerre, left, a math teacher at Canajoharie High School, looks on as students compete to create a Pac-Man game in Roger Bacon Hall at Siena College.

Catherine Lowerre, left, a math teacher at Canajoharie High School, looks on as students compete to create a Pac-Man game in Roger Bacon Hall at Siena College. Photo by Billy DeLap.

To spur an interest in the booming computer science industry, especially in women, Siena College created a program for young people that would expose them to the different aspects of the field.

On Friday, Jan. 10, Siena students and faculty worked with 72 students from 11 Capital District schools as part of the computer science department’s Impact Program.

“Our goal is to provide some outreach to high school students, and especially young women who have no prior exposure to computer programming or computer science,” said program coordinator and computer science instructor Daniel DiTursi.

The Impact Program was created to teach students about the many different aspects of computer science, including software engineering and graphics. The students participated in activities and competitions as fun and challenging ways to test their knowledge.

Ira Goldstein, assistant professor of computer science at Siena, said that in one of the tasks that emulated the steps of software development, the students used tinker toys to construct a model and test it to see if it worked.

“You have someone that’s a specifier that the analyst listens to. The analyst then communicates with the software coders, which would be the people building the tinker toys and usually a third party that tests the software,” said Goldstein.

Another task that students were given was to create a Pac-Man-like game with a program called GameMaker. The students, who had never used the program before, were given instruction sheets and 45 minutes to complete the task.

DiTursi said one of the reasons they are attempting to garner more interest from young women in the field is that 80 percent of the 50,000-60,000 computer science majors that graduate annually are men. The Bureau of Labor statistics estimates that close to 1.4 million jobs will be added to the field over the next 10 years.

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