Margie Matthews, instructional technology coordinator at St. Ursula Academy, and Jim Scott, a faculty member with the School of Information Technology at the University of Cincinnati, are board members of the INTERalliance of Greater Cincinnati and love discussing and coming up with ways to get students interested in technology careers. 

It was during one of these discussions that they stumbled upon a way to get more young women interested in technology—particularly the students at St. Ursula.

“It kind of came down to the fact that you almost need [technology education] within the school day somehow,” says Matthews. “[Scott] said, ‘What if we had a group of students from the University of Cincinnati come to St. Ursula Academy … and actually just teach them a little bit about technology?’”

And thus St. Ursula’s after-school tech program was born. UC students taught four, one-week classes on a different IT topics: iPhone apps, Javascript web programming, hardware and computer networking, and web development. Each class topic was specifically selected to give the students an introduction into technology while not overwhelming them.

“We weren’t going to be able to teach them fundamentally how to code in a language in a week,” says Scott. “Our approach [was to] pick interesting things that are visual, that they’ll see quick results in, and then write the shell of the project for them and let them finish it. So we didn’t have to teach them real in-depth, we could get them sort of à la carte exposure to four different types of technology.” For example, with the iPhone app, a UC student wrote two-thirds of it while the St. Ursula students finished it. 

The response from the St. Ursula students was very enthusiastic and positive. 

Clare Puttmann, a St. Ursula student, says, “One of the classes I did, it was basically how computers work and how computers talk to each other and on the very first day we got to class, we got to take apart the tower of a desktop computer. And seeing how data is organized, how information works, was really interesting to me.” 

For student Lily Mannix, the class taught her more about Javascript: “I remember halfway through the class I had a ‘aha’ moment where I realized that they were having us go through this specific set of steps that you can do to achieve a certain kind of function for this [online] greeting card, but I realized in this moment that I can change it and do it a little bit different and make it my own thing. And that’s the thing I really like about coding—it’s so expansive and it’s so customizable for the person.”

Matthews has seen this same level of enthusiasm in the other students, too.

“Many of [the students] came to me and said, ‘I never knew what this was all about. Now that I know it’s interesting to me,’’ says Matthews. 

With the positive reaction and the interest from its students, St. Ursula decided to offer an online fundamentals of technology course through UC to its students during the school day this year as well as the after-school technology class. While the school is only offering two after-school classes this year, they will each be two weeks long.

“I’m just hoping that more and more students will become familiar with what technology is,” says Matthews. “Whether it be a tech profession or whether they’re a medical professional, they still will need to understand technology. And the more they understand the better they will be able to do their job.”