New App Helps Attract Women and Minorities to STEM

Michael J. Lee, Assistant Professor, Department of Informatics, New Jersey Institute of Technology, discusses ways he is engaging young women and minorities in STEM with his innovative app.

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"Welcome back. When you hear the word Gidget do you picture Sally Fields on a surfboard? If you do you're dating yourself because today Gidget is a new way for all of us to better understand computers and programming something I know nothing about. I'm joined right now by Michael Lee who's the assistant professor in the Department of Informatics at New Jersey Institute of Technology, NJIT. Welcome to the program. Thanks for having me. It's a pleasure. I was telling you off the air I just said it computer science always scared me. Programming zeros and ones not my thing, why would get help me? When we think about equity in computer science a lot of people tend to be males, they tend to be white or Asian and so we have a lot of unrepresented for many groups for example females and I think a lot of these preconceived notions are detrimental to you know advancing STEM. in the USA. Why are there these preconceived notions that it is predominantly for men that it's not for me if I'm a woman or maybe from a minority community, why is that there? There might be access to computing resources. Um one big thing that people refer to is role models so all the role models that you see tend to be certain types of people so if you don't see yourself in this person, if they don't look like you for example, if they don't speak like you, you don't have these people to look up, to to aspire to. So that is one reason that people might think that we have less representation in certain groups. Okay so Gidget, let's explain what Gidget is right? Sure. Gidget is a game that you came up with? Definitely, so this was part of my dissertation work for my PhD and Gidget is designed to engage learners of all ages and to teach them computer science concepts. So basically what you're doing in Gidget is solving puzzles but debugging and learning how to code and we try to really make it accessible to everybody of all ages. We thought about making it been very gender inclusive so we really wanted to make sure it wasn't designed for girls, it was it wasn't designed for boys but it was that it was designed so that it be engaging for everybody. So we've had a lot of success. We've had over 10,000 people play the game, 42% of our users are female which is great considering that women are very underrepresented in STEM fields. What are the ages really of people who are using this? So... Do you find it's younger, older? Definitely, so we have had people from five years old to..."