— By Elizabeth Wood
How Middle Schoolers Understand Software Engineering
Today I had the opportunity to travel with 30 middle schoolers and three chaperones from
Metro Nashville Public Schools to HPA, a Cognizant Company’s new office space in Maryland Farms. We were greeted by Senior Manager of Software Engineering and New Product Development and Solutions Alishah Novin, who began the day by showing us the office and telling us about what HPA does. Before he began, I wondered whether Alishah would be able to effectively lay out the basis of software engineering, particularly as it involves automating robotic processes, to a room full of fifth through eighth graders, whom I guessed might be more interested in the office’s ping pong tables and lounge areas. As he began a basic explanation of automation, however, it was clear that the students were actively engaged and eager to learn. To illustrate the analytical mechanisms involved in software engineering, Alishah gave a fantastic interactive presentation in which students were presented with various riddles, games, or thought experiments. He encouraged students to ask questions so as to sufficiently understand the problem at hand, to challenge any prior assumptions they may have about such, and to fail – often and fast.
Inspiring a Passion for STEM
To conclude, Alishah presented the students with valuable tokens that I expect many will carry with them for years. He explained the story of the iron ring, a sharp and uncomfortable ring given to engineering students of the University of Toronto to represent the significance of and responsibility associated with getting an engineering degree. Though engineering may not always be easy or comfortable, of which engineers are reminded by their iron rings, the high reward associated with engineering is represented during the ceremony in which students are given their rings.
After illustrating the story of the iron ring, Alishah set out a bowl full of keychains composed of hexagonal nuts and ball chains. He emphasized that students were welcome, but not obligated, to take a keychain, which he hoped would remind them of the significance of engineering should they choose to pursue a career in the field. Wide-eyed and clearly inspired, every single student in the room then willingly stood up and walked over to accept a keychain. Alishah’s story and the students’ reaction resonated with me, and I know it is one that will stick with the students for years to come as well.
The next event I plan to attend is the Cybersecurity with Robotics Summer Camp at Vanderbilt University Institute for Software Integrated Systems on June 11th. I’m looking forward to watching the student races and getting to meet high school students who are gifted in STEM. Know of a tech-related event or usergroup meetup I should check out, tweet to @nashtechcouncil and let me know!