Google Designer Brings Inspiration to Codemakers Girls Camp

Hannah Johnston (right) works with one of the girls at the Codemakers Girls Jr. Camp at Carleton on July 10, 2015. (Chris Roussakis Photo)

Google interaction designer and Carleton alumna, Hannah Johnston, made a guest appearance on campus this summer to share advice and inspiration with a group of young girls aspiring to be leaders in engineering and technology.

Her visit was part of the Codemakers Girls Jr. Camp, hosted from July 6-10 by Virtual Ventures, a not-for-profit technology and engineering program for youth run by Carleton’s research-intensive Faculty of Engineering and Design.

Johnston spent the day teaching a group of 37 girls from grades 3 to 9 about using code to create music and sharing her personal story of working in the information technology sector.

Johnston, a former Virtual Ventures director who completed her bachelor’s in Information Technology (BIT) and her master’s in Information and Systems Science at Carleton, says her biggest hope is that the girls learn how they can have fun doing science and technology.

“A lot of it is just exposure – understanding what it is that computers can actually do,” Johnston says of encouraging more girls to get involved in the subject. “It’s not just writing code in a back room.”

Throughout the week-long camp, the girls learned about coding, robotics and electronics, and binary numbers.

Annika Dejager, in grade 7, says her favourite part of the camp was creating “strawberry DNA” because she loves science.

“People can identify who we are because we all have DNA. So we identified strawberry DNA,” Dejager says.

“If they end up exploring science and technology and deciding they’re not interested in it, that’s totally cool,” says Johnston. But it’s important that girls “make that decision in some sort of conscious way and not just write computer science and engineering off as, ‘Oh that’s not for me,’ without understanding what that is.”

Johnston’s own interest in information technology began when she joined a Virtual Ventures camp at Carleton as a kid.

“That’s kind of how I ended up in BIT and then did a master’s in Information Science,” she says.

While studying information technology at Carleton gave her the programming and technological skills she needed for a career as an interaction designer at Google, her undergrad studies in interactive multimedia design prepped her with skills in computer animation and web design.

Rather than simply consuming technology, Johnston hopes the girls will be inspired to use technology to create their own projects – something she says her studies at Carleton allowed her to do.

“Coming up with an idea and then being empowered to figure out how to do it and execute it – I think that skill is very valuable,” Johnston says.

The goal of the Virtual Ventures girls-only camps is to provide girls with an “environment where they feel safe to explore, make mistakes, and still enjoy science and technology,” says Mawuena Torkornoo, director of Virtual Ventures.

“Hopefully we spark a passion in them that will help them continue into high school and into university, and pursue a career in that field,” she says.

The Codemakers Girls Jr. Camp is part of a cross-Canada program powered by Google and Actua, which is introducing 100,000 youth to the world of technology and computer programming. It is designed to move youth from being consumers of technology to producers of technology by engaging them in a series of workshops and events.

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