Women in Tech: Camille Eddy

Posted on - Tech Education, Women in Tech

Growing up, Camille Eddy wanted to be an astronaut. She went to space camp, loved Star Trek, and was even mentored by former NASA mission specialist Barbara Morgan. Part of being an astronaut, Eddy discovered, involved developing STEM skills. So she began programming at age 12, started her own web design business at age 17, and went to Boise State University in Idaho to major in mechanical engineering. While most college students rely on loans or parental support to pay for their university housing, Eddy used the profits from her web design business.

Now, she works as a robotics engineer & developer at TIMBER IT consulting in Seattle and is a mechanical engineering/robotics major at the University of Idaho. She has interned at HP, where she designed a five-fingered robot, and at NVIDIA, where she worked on the development of self-driving automobiles. Notably, Eddy also interned at X, the moonshot factory—formerly Google X, a research & design facility—where she invented various mechanical apparatuses and helped maintain quality control.

As if that weren’t enough, Eddy writes regularly and speaks internationally on inclusion in the tech community. She sits on the board of directors of GIRL STEM STARS, whose mission is to foster excitement, confidence, and literacy in STEM for girls of color, particularly those from underrepresented communities. She is also a robotics instructor for lilSTAR, a STEAM program for underserved Black students in the greater San Diego area, for which she wrote a robotics curriculum that taught students how to build a robot complete with servos, motors, wheels, and Arduino technology.

Listing the rest of her accomplishments and volunteer experiences would take too long.

She’s done all this while working on her bachelor’s degree.

Coming to Omaha

Last Friday, Eddy visited Omaha to give a keynote presentation at the Gender Equity in Technology Conference, or GETConf. Her talk, “Recognizing Cultural Bias in AI,” focused on identifying and reducing unwanted bias in machine learning. She discussed how culturally biased datasets can introduce unwanted bias into artificial intelligence. For instance, when researchers at Boston University and Microsoft Research used a Google-developed word database called Word2vec to complete the analogy of “man is to computer programmer as woman is to X,” the database evaluated X as “homemaker”—meaning any AI that learns from this database will inherit a sexism that humans would like to see eradicated, not reinforced.

“We must ensure that the world we live in today, with all its -isms…is not the world that artificial intelligence interprets for us tomorrow,” Eddy said during her keynote.

An Advocate for Women in STEM

When asked how to maximize the number of girls and women entering the tech talent pipeline, Eddy echoed some advice that had stuck with her over the years: “We don’t need to convince girls or women to go into tech, we need to create more environments where they feel welcome and acceptable, so that tech becomes a natural choice.”

“It’s also not just about getting them in, but keeping them in,” she added. That means strengthening retention in both degree programs and career fields.

And the tech pipeline itself is not the only consideration, she said. The jobs that lie at the end of the pipeline are just as vital.

“I think it’s really important that we’re providing careers that are satisfactory to whatever it is that we’re interested in. For example, my talk was on cultural bias in AI. But when I talk about that as a career path, I might get a couple stares. So making sure that if there are those types of careers that people are interested in, that we’re creating valid paths to them.”

As for Eddy’s own career trajectory, she wants to continue working at the intersection of hardware and software, particularly in robotics. She also wants to be a science and engineering communicator, someone like Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson, she said—someone who popularizes STEM for a general audience.

Given her passion for the way humanity interacts with emerging technology, and her already extensive history as a speaker demystifying difficult subjects for audiences, Camille Eddy is someone to watch as she makes her own moonshot to the future.

AIM Upward Bound Students Visit Universities in Chicago, Orlando

Posted on - Tech Education, Youth

Last week, students from AIM’s Upward Bound programs at Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson high schools traveled to Chicago and Florida respectively for campus visits to multiple universities. AIM Institute staff members chaperoned the trip. In addition to the college tours, students enjoyed a variety of STEM experiences and fun cultural activities.

For students, the campus visits represented years of AIM Upward Bound programming. Upward Bound is a federal TRIO program that helps students from disadvantaged backgrounds succeed in their precollege performance, and ultimately in their pursuit of higher education, through specialized academic instruction, mentoring, counseling, cultural enrichment activities, and work-study programs. AIM coordinates Upward Bound programs and provides free technology education through the Brain Exchange at five area high schools.

Palm Trees and Cartesian Planes

Twenty students from Thomas Jefferson High traveled to Orlando, Florida, to visit the University of Central Florida and experience STEM exhibits at the Universal Studios theme park. The group left early Thursday morning. Many students had not flown in a plane before.

“Watching some students fly in an airplane for the first time, particularly watching their reactions when we went above the clouds where the sun was shining over the clouds, was inspiring,” said AIM Upward Bound Project Director Tanya Jacha, one of the chaperones for the trip. “It was good to see some students overcome their fear of flying so that this will not hinder them in their college and career decision-making.”

After arriving in Orlando, the group had a free day to adjust to the new climate.

On Friday, students participated in a scavenger hunt at the University of Central Florida (UCF). The scavenger hunt was designed as a kind of college-survival exercise, so students could practice learning how to find the most important parts of a campus. At times, they had to ask for help from UCF students, who were glad to help them.

Sophomore Camaryn Belt covered the trip for her broadcasting class. She shot video and photographs (including the one above), took notes, and conducted interviews with students and chaperones. She said the UCF campus was huge and full of amenities, including well-known restaurants, sports stadiums, shops, even a hair salon. According to the university’s website, there are more students enrolled at UCF than at any other U.S. educational institution.

On Saturday, the group visited Universal Studios Florida and participated in a STEM activity called Kongtrol Panel. Kongtrol Panel gives students the chance to use the engineering principles they’ve learned in their Upward Bound coursework to control a simulated version of the King Kong-themed ride Skull Island: Reign of Kong™. Students plot coordinates on a Cartesian plane to program simulated vehicles safely around increasingly difficult tracks. Then the students rode the actual ride, experiencing the power of engineering technology firsthand.

A Long Ride to Chicago

Nine students from Abraham Lincoln took a trip to Chicago to visit the Illinois Institute of Technology and experience the cultural resources of a big city. The group left Wednesday morning, traveling by bus to Davenport for an overnight stay.

On Thursday, before leaving for Chicago, students toured Davenport’s St. Ambrose University, a private liberal arts institution. After the tour, they visited Putnam Science Museum. Students used hands-on technology to interact with various aspects of STEM, including the physics of sound waves and the geology and natural history of the Iowa-Illinois region.  

“They all thought the museum would be boring, but they all ended up loving it,” said Hannah Rotschafer, social media & email specialist for AIM Institute and one of the chaperones for the trip.

Following the Putnam Museum, the group drove to Chicago. They visited the Navy Pier and then divided into groups to eat dinner downtown. Each student received an $85 stipend at the beginning of the trip and had to figure out how to make it last until they returned home.

Rotschafer said she enjoyed watching the students think critically about their budgets. “It was fun to see them say, ‘Oh, maybe we shouldn’t do this–I know it seems like fun, but it’s kind of expensive.’ I was like, ‘Welcome to adulthood,’” she said.

On Friday, the group toured the Illinois Institute of Technology, a prestigious private research university in Chicago that integrates tech into every program. The students learned about cutting-edge technologies, such as 3D-printed organs and social media marketing machine learning.

After the campus tour, the group visited the Skydeck at Willis Tower and the Lincoln Park Zoo. While the view from the Skydeck was impressive, the zoo was a bit of a letdown.

“I think we had a lot of high expectations because we come from Omaha and have one of the best zoos in the world,” Rotschafer said.  

On Saturday, the last day of the trip, the group embarked on the long drive back to Council Bluffs. They stopped in Davenport again and watched an IMAX movie about ocean science and technology before returning home.

Importance of the Trips

Campus trips are important for Upward Bound students, who would not otherwise have the opportunity to visit universities outside of their immediate vicinity. Rotschafer said such trips help youth make informed decisions about the higher education they want to pursue.

“I think a lot of kids learned what they don’t want in a college, which I think is equally as important as figuring out what you do like,” Rotschafer said.

Jacha said the trips also help enlarge students’ view of the world and open their minds to new possibilities, new futures.

“It was incredible to just see their perspectives of the world completely blown out of the box they were in,” Jacha said.

In post-trip evaluations, students expressed sincere gratitude for their experiences.

“We’re all really grateful we got this opportunity,” said Thomas Jefferson sophomore Abby Tauge. “These things encourage us and better us for our education.”

Upward Bound Summer Academy Registration Now Open

Posted on - Community, Tech Education, Youth

AIM Institute is now accepting registrations for the 2019 Upward Bound Summer Academy, an immersive summer experience for all AIM Upward Bound students who want to explore careers and college in a fun way. The Summer Academy runs from June 10 to July 19 and is free for participants.

Summer Academy continues the intensive education and enrichment that AIM’s Upward Bound students receive throughout the academic year. Mondays through Wednesdays, students will take morning classes in math, lab science, writing, literature, American Sign Language, and technology. Afternoons will involve field trips, presentations, and volunteer work. On Thursdays and Fridays, students will travel to area colleges to tour campuses and get involved in activities such as visiting planetariums and working on a theatre project.

“We’ve planned things that are as engaging and active as possible,” said Tanya Jacha, Project Director of AIM’s Upward Bound program and Summer Academy organizer.

Upward Bound falls under the umbrella of the federal TRIO program, which provides outreach and student services designed to identify and serve people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Specifically, Upward Bound helps students succeed in their precollege performance and ultimately in their higher education pursuits through specialized academic instruction, as well as mentoring, counseling, cultural enrichment activities, and work-study programs.

Jacha said AIM has hired teachers with a strong reputation for innovative teaching and a track record of rapport with students.

“We told them, ‘We will give you the funding to do whatever is necessary to make this as outside-of-the-box and exciting as possible,” Jacha said. “It’s pretty much a dream-come-true for every teacher that has ever said, ‘I just don’t have enough money for this.’”

In addition, the Brain Exchange will provide hands-on technology education, such as 3D printing and ozobots. The Brain Exchange, a program of the AIM Institute, offers free tech experiences to youth to ignite curiosity and early interest in technology.

Breakfast and lunch are provided at no cost to participants. Students will also receive free transportation to and from their home schools.

Summer Academy Weekly Overview

Here is an overview of the weeks, their themes, and some of the activities students will engage in during Summer Academy.

Week One: Space. Students will visit the Strategic Air & Space Museum, the Mallory Kountze Planetarium at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the Mueller Planetarium at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Week Two: Sports. Students will attend a College World Series baseball outing and use their knowledge of statistics to take stats during the game.

Week Three: Public Service. Students will visit a veteran’s home to attend a presentation about service to America; participate in a mock trial at Creighton University Law School; and, with Lutheran Family Services, shop for a refugee family that will be moving to Omaha.

Week Four: Students have the week off for 4th of July.

Week Five: Environment & Animals. Students will go to Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari, visit a wind turbine farm, and participate in a workshop at the Henry Doorly Zoo.

Week Six: Entertainment. Students will tour the Omaha Performing Arts Center and participate in theatre production activities according to their interest (acting, makeup, sound & lighting, and costuming). They will also attend a show at the Rose Theatre and visit the Iowa Western Community College radio station.           

So far, 82 students have signed up for Summer Academy, a higher number than in previous years. Spots are still available. Students should contact their Upward Bound coordinator or director as soon as possible or email Tanya Jacha to register for Summer Academy. The program is open exclusively to students enrolled in AIM’s Upward Bound program.

Interface Web School graduate Alyssa Wilson wants more people to know tech is cool

Posted on - Tech Education

“I feel like Interface lit the fire in me to be more aggressive with accomplishing what I want in my life,” says Alyssa Wilson, a graduate of the Interface Web School.

After a career in visual publications and graphic design, Alyssa now works as a software development engineer at Fiserv, which provides technology solutions to the financial world.

Interface changed the course of her life. In 2015, a good friend told Alyssa about a web development class she was taking at Interface. Although Alyssa had received her associate’s degree in visual publications, graphic design, web design, and print production in 2004, she was not up-to-date on HTML5 and the latest version of CSS.

Alyssa decided to give Interface a shot. Fiserv covered the cost for her to attend the Foundations of Web Development course.

While keeping her dayjob, she attended Interface classes and completed her homework at night.

“I dropped off the face of the earth for like twelve weeks,” Alyssa says. “But it’s completely worth it. You get your money’s worth, for sure.”

Though the homework could be intense, Alyssa and a group of Interface classmates would meet on Sundays at Starbucks to share their knowledge and troubleshoot problems as they developed their skills.

Interface upgraded her ability to learn different programming languages and gave her a sense of the importance of the tiniest details in code.

She obtained a new position at Fiserv as a software development engineer working with COBOL. COBOL is an in-demand programming language relied on by major corporations and financial institutions; many current COBOL programmers are aging out of the workforce, leaving tech talent gaps that companies are scrambling to fill.

“COBOL classes are the thing to take,” Alyssa says. “All of those people that coded back in the day, they’re retiring. The only people that actually had COBOL in school were people who started here years ago.”

(Interface offers a 14-week certification course in COBOL programming. Scholarships are available. Check out an Interface info session to learn more.)

Moreover, Interface inspired Alyssa to return to college.

“Since I only had my associate’s degree, I decided to go back,” she says. “Once I got a taste of school, I wanted some more.” Alyssa is now pursuing her bachelor’s degree in information systems technology with an emphasis in software development at Doane University.

Her time at Interface allowed her to build community connections. She served on the board of Girls Who Code, a nonprofit aiming to support and increase the number of women in computer science. She also volunteered for Lincoln Coding Women, a group of women in tech supporting an inclusive environment for learning and exploring technology.

“I just think it’s really important to get the word out to kids, and women, specifically, that tech is a cool thing,” Alyssa says. “If you have a career in tech, you could have an awesome future.”

Alyssa offers some valuable advice for people thinking about attending Interface.

“Make sure it’s something you can completely focus on and that you won’t have anything else distracting you. Don’t have it be something that you’re taking on on top of a whole bunch of other different things, because it is time-consuming. But in the long run, it’s completely worth it. I mean, I have a job I didn’t think I would have.”

According to Alyssa, Interface was more than just a course, it was a path to a new life.

“I wish more people had knowledge of how cool Interface is, how many cool people that you meet, how involved in the community you can get through the course,” she says.

Check out a free Interface info session to get started on a rewarding career in technology or to upgrade your current skills.

Laid Off & Launching It event helps displaced workers who are considering a career change

Posted on - Press Releases

AIM Institute, Frannet of the Heartland, and growmedia.com team to host “Laid Off & Launching It” Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Free event helps displaced workers who are considering the launch of a new technical career OR starting a business.

Omaha, Neb. (April 8, 2019) — There are hundreds of workers in the Omaha region looking for their next opportunity due to employer downsizing, layoffs and business closures. AIM Institute, Frannet of the Heartland, and growmedia.com will host “Laid off and Launching It” on Wednesday, May 1 at AIM Institute to help individuals identify new technical careers or entrepreneurial pathways.

This FREE, public event will be held Wednesday, May 1 from noon to 1:30 p.m. in downtown Omaha at the AIM Exchange building, 1905 Harney Street on the 7th floor.  Attendees may attend for all or part of the event. Registration is recommended but not required. Register here: (Eventbrite registration page under development).

A “Q and A” format panel discussion will provide insight on re-training or self-employment for professionals in career transition. Speakers include:

  • Tony Veland, AIM Institute Director of Business Development and Ellen Myer, Director of Interface Web School will address topics related to AIM’s Interface Web School and how people can launch a technical career through its course training options.
  • Blake Martin of Frannet of the Heartland will address topics related to launching an entrepreneurial career as a franchisee or purchasing an existing business.
  • Elizabeth Yearwood, Economic Development Specialist for the Nebraska District of the Small Business Administration will describe the many services the organization offers to entrepreneurs.
  • Paul Madsen, of growmedia.com and “The Grow Your Biz Show” will moderate the panel and discuss niche marketing for the Solopreneur.

AIM Institute is an innovative nonprofit that grows, connects and inspires the tech talent community through career development and educational programs. Through these efforts, we improve thousands of lives across the Silicon Prairie. More information about AIM is available at aiminstitute.org.

FranNet is an International Franchise Consulting Firm that provides education and support to individuals who are interested in exploring self employment as a career option through franchised business ownership.

Elizabeth Yearwood, Economic Development Specialist for the Nebraska District of the Small Business Administration will describe the many government services that organization offers to entrepreneurs.

growmedia.com finds the greatness of small business owners AND their optimum niche markets. Additionally, it inspires owners and launchers via “The Grow Your Biz Show,” a weekly talk show focused on entrepreneurs.

Students and Industry Work Together at MCC’s Center for Advanced and Emerging Technology

Posted on - Community, Tech Education

If you hate sitting in a chair eight hours a day learning, you’ll love the Center for Advanced and Emerging Technology at Metropolitan Community College. That’s a message Dr. Thomas Pensabene uses to entice potential students to check out MCC’s advanced prototype design degree, which is offered at the center.

“No two days are the same,” says Dr. Pensabene, associate vice president of workforce and IT innovation at MCC.

The Center for Advanced and Emerging Technology (CAET) is a 9,600 square foot prototyping lab, flexible learning center, and magnet for industry partnerships located on MCC’s Fort Omaha campus. CAET houses 3D printers, 3D scanners, computer-numerical-controlled plasma cutters, laser cutters, vinyl cutters, mills, and other devices necessary for prototyping.

A Partnership Between Higher Education and Industry

Opened in 2017, the CAET represents a unique partnership between higher education and industry. At CAET, industry professionals work side-by-side with students and MCC faculty to bring prototypes to life, from design to construction and evaluation. Students develop a highly in-demand skillset—prototyping, or the development of real-life models to test and evaluate designs—through hands-on experience with state-of-the-art technology and contemporary workflow design. In return, industry partners receive office space and the chance to spot, nurture, and recruit future talent.

“When you find people who put their hands on something and have actually built something, that experience is exponentially better,” says Curt Brannon, founder and CEO of Sympateco, a manufacturer that supplies national franchises such as Sport Clips and Complete Nutrition with cabinetry and other items. “The practical aspect of this place is just awesome. And I trust that, by the way, more than someone who maybe went to some super school and got a good grade.”

Sympateco Invests in the Center for Advanced and Emerging Technology

For the past two years, Sympateco has made what Dr. Pensabene calls a “priceless” investment in the CAET, working closely with over 25 students and prototype design instructor Michael Guericke. The relationship between Sympateco and MCC will continue to strengthen, as the Mini-Sympateco Prototype Lab is currently undergoing construction in a wing of the CAET.

Sympateco Vice President Mary Smolsky says the advanced prototyping design program at CAET has been helpful in identifying the kind of practical engineering talent that would fit well within her organization.

“We can try to hire engineers that have gone to school for engineering,” Smolsky says. “But if they’re not okay going out and firing up the machine and building it themselves to understand where it’s gonna break, it’s really hard to teach them how to design for construction.”

While there is not a specific job called prototype design, companies need a skill called prototyping, Dr. Pensabene says. And the need is critical. In fact, although advanced prototype design is a two-year degree, many students are offered jobs during their first year.

A Sea-Change in Attitudes Toward the Trades

Moreover, the CAET represents a sea-change in education, a shift toward practical, hands-on, collaborative experience, and a celebration of the respectability of the trades.

“The world for so long has kind of pulled away from the idea that people can actually sustain life with a trade. And that bothers me,” Brannon says. “That really bothers me.”

Aside from the working relationship developed between Sympateco and MCC, it’s clear Brannon maintains an emotional connection to the CAET, its mission and purpose.

“I think this is just the beginning,” Brannon says. “This is the best foundation for the way certain people think. I was a thinker that would have no problem with being in this environment. When you’re wired that way, you need environments like this, and you need support.”

Smolsky, meanwhile, praises the versatility of the advanced prototyping design degree offered at the CAET.

“Just because it’s focused around manufacturing doesn’t mean you have to end up in manufacturing,” she says. “Let us teach you the thought process of what we’re trying to do and you can apply that to any industry. This is a good spot for: ‘I really don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. But help me get there.’”

“We’re fitting square pegs in round holes all the time,” Dr. Pensabene adds.

The CAET is located at 5300 N. 30th Street on the MCC Fort Omaha campus and is open to the public for a small fee (email prototypelab@nullmccneb.edu for more information). For more information about MCC’s advanced prototype design program, go here.