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Girls in Tech initiative teaches programming to Queens teenagers

Sisters from Benjamin Cardozo High School created an app to help people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Rochelle, left, and Simone Barsz, two participants in

Rochelle, left, and Simone Barsz, two participants in the spring 2018 Girls in Tech workshop, created an app prototype for early Alzheimer's patients. Photo Credit: NY Hall of Science

These two teens from Queens are ready to shatter stereotypes that the science and math worlds belong to men.

Rochelle and Simone Barsz, students at Benjamin Cardozo High School, are in a special program to prepare them for the biomedical and engineering fields. Rochelle, a junior, is on the science Olympiad and math team. Simone, 14, a freshman, is in the environmental club. And on their spring break, the duo created a computer app to help people with early stage Alzheimer’s disease.

Rochelle said she wasn’t surprised to learn about the low number of women in vital science, technology, engineering and math jobs.

“I feel like many girls feel intimidated by men,” said 16-year-old Rochelle. “People tell them they can’t do certain things. It’s changing with time.”

The sisters developed their app as part of the free, weeklong Girls in Tech initiative at the New York Hall of Science in April. It runs again from July 16 through 24 and August 13 through 21.

The program, funded by BNY Mellon, is geared to girls in grades 8 through 12, helping them learn programming skills and work with others on creating an app that focuses on a real-world issue.

Girls in Tech is part of a larger effort at the Hall of Science and other institutions to get young women interested in science, technology, engineering and math careers.

Rochelle and Simone’s app, called “Unlocking Time,” was inspired by a family member who is struggling with the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

“Since there are no cures for the deterioration of the brain and forgetfulness, we made an app that would help people cope with it and be aware as long as possible,” said Simone.

The app has facial recognition photos of houses, family and even pets as well as the date, time and location of where they are, Rochelle said.

Other students designed apps about pet adoption and sharing ways for young people to stay healthy and fit, according to Anthony Negron, manager of digital programming at the Hall of Science.

“We talk about the importance of how going into the field of computer science entails different opportunities they can get involved in — health care, product innovation, web development,” Negron said. “There are so many different opportunities to take advantage of.”

Negron lauded Rochelle and Simone’s tenacity and creativity.

“The program was from Monday to Saturday and until the tail end of the week, when we would finish around 4 p.m., they would go home and continue working,” said Negron. “They did a remarkable job.”

Rochelle advised girls not to be discouraged exploring their interest in STEM-related classes and activities.

“I would say go for it because women are intelligent and they can do anything,” she said.

For more information about how to apply for the Girls in Tech program call or email Ayesha Ware at 718-595-9120 or email aware@nysci.org

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