DHF Youth Profile: Sierra Seabrease

When Sierra Seabrease first enrolled in programs at DHF in the fall of 2013, she wasn’t interested in pursuing a career in tech. “I wanted to be a traveling photographer for National Geographic,” said Sierra, “I thought tech jobs were boring desk jobs with Microsoft Office. My mom sort of pushed me into it.”

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The group of youth that started with Sierra that fall comprised DHF’s first Maker Foundations cohort. There were sixteen youth in the cohort, only three of which were female. “Me, Steph, and Amber [DHF’s Director of Education and Operations Manager, respectively] wanted to try to increase female retention in programs and sat down to brainstorm different ideas,” Sierra said, “I knew that I had stayed as long as I did because I’d formed a bond with Steph and wanted to find opportunities for other girls to collaborate with staff.” These preliminary meetings led to the formation of the Makerettes, a group of female youth and staff at DHF who meet twice monthly to collaborate on a variety of different projects.

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“I fell off one summer because I was going through some transitional changes in my life and it was hard to come in and do something without knowing what to do,” said Sierra. The Makerettes were a support system that guided Sierra and other girls as they explored different projects. Many of the projects Sierra created have become long-term installations at DHF.

“My final project in Maker Foundations was the Jukebox Piano,” said Sierra, “It’s a piano hacked with Raspberry Pi and MaKey MaKeys to play a song from a selection according to what key is pressed.” The Jukebox Piano was selected for the White House Science Fair in 2014. “It was a huge achievement for me,” said Sierra, “because it was the first time I was getting recognized for the work I was doing.”

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When Sierra became a Member at DHF, she started working on other projects with CNC machine and 3D printing photographs. She also built a photobooth and created an egg bot – a robot that draws on small round objects such as ping pong balls, light bulbs, and eggs. Her jukebox piano, too, went through several different iterations.

“Now, in my internship at Fearless Solutions, I’m doing a lot of software testing and coding,” said Sierra, “We made a map for Hubzones around the world with the small business administration. Hubzones are disaster areas or economic stress areas – if you’re in a hubzone, the government can give you money. I’ve been testing the software with another intern and am learning Ruby to test on my own.”

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This fall, Sierra has begun her freshman year at the University of Maryland where she plans to study mechanical engineering. “My mom says that when I was younger I used to build stuff out of nothing,” said Sierra, “I would make structures out of cardboard and straws and call them UFOs. Now I can build things as a career and I wouldn’t have known that without the support I had at DHF.”

Read more about Sierra in this feature of her work in POLITICO Magazine: How a Young Woman’s DIY Jukebox Caught the Eye of the White House

Celebrating International Day of the Girl Child at DHF

Women today are often faced with the challenge of being largely underrepresented in the tech world, but at DHF, in contrast, women represent around 40% of participants in programs semester to semester. In an effort to give girls a platform in STEM, the young women of DHF partnered with Wide Angle Youth Media at the end of August to create a short film for the United Nations’ International Day of the Girl Child initiative that showcases young women of different ages and demographics making in collaboration.

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On October 10th, the short film was released at the Digital Harbor Foundation in our first ever video premiere event. Members of the audience included families of the young women who starred in the film and community members such as Brooke Lierman, Maryland State Delegate representing District 46, who spoke on the importance of persistence, especially for young women. Said Lierman, “the next best thing to trying and winning is trying and failing.”

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The film screening, which also began DHF’s social media campaign for female youth’s representation in makerspaces and tech spaces, features DHF youth Miranda Hull, Jordyn Bocklage, Elizabeth Blake, Madison Bannerman, and Aeirss Prince, Anna Miller, Samantha Nistico, and Alexis Leggette. It shows the girls engaging in activities, such as problem solving, programming, laser cutting, and soldering, and features an encouraging message to girls – although only 24% of employees in math, science, technology, and engineering are women, young women can change this statistic by working together and rejecting the stereotypes that their minds aren’t wired for math and science.

Before and after the screening, two panels of DHF’s actresses answered questions posed to them about the process of creating the film and their experiences as young women in tech. When asked how to get more girls involved in tech, Aeirss, who narrates the short film, said “I would encourage girls to just go out and do it.” She also shared her story of being the only female participant in her school’s robotics club. Miranda had a similar experience of being one of the few females involved in her school’s Science Olympiad program.

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“The innovative and creative scene is male dominated,” Miranda said, “Women are underrepresented, but we will eventually dominate the scene.”

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Anna, age 10, closed out our panels with advice for getting more girls involved in STEM fields: “Tell girls when they’re doing a good job, listen to girls, and as girls help each other out, share ideas, and see what we can make.”

Baltimore Youth Participate in Inaugural Youth Hackathon at DHF

In February, DHF youth member, Bella, approached our Youth Steering Committee with an idea to have a Youth Hackathon. The hackathon would be organized and hosted by the Youth Steering Committee and open to youth in the Baltimore area ages 12 to 18. The idea of the hackathon would be to create a space for youth the experience the environment of a hackathon alongside their peers.

Over the next seven months, the Youth Steering Committee split into groups to organize the hackathon – Harbor Hacks – a task that involved securing sponsors, creating a budget and ordering prizes, and recruitment of hackers, coaches, and judges.

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Members of the Youth Steering Committee who organized Harbor Hacks

All their planning came together the weekend of August 11th. Forty youth split into ten groups to begin work on a variety of hardware and software projects. We were excited to have a large representation of female participants (46%!!) and youth new to DHF (36%). Aside from their project work throughout the weekend, the youth also participated in soldering workshops with the SparkFun Weevil Eye Kits and programming workshops with Micro:bits, both items that each youth received as part of their swag bags.

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Jonathan shows youth how to use to the Micro:bit

The criteria for judging included difficulty and challenge, communication, functionality, presentation, and innovation in two categories: hardware and software. We had a talented group of judges including Ellie Mitchell (Maryland Out of School Time Network), Marty McGuire (web developer & Baltimore Maker), Jason Hardebeck (The Foundery), and Vakul More (Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Information Technology). Their job was definitely not an easy one!

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Judges checking out Immanuel & Roman’s Battle Bot

All of the projects were great, but ultimately, the judges selected the winners: the winners of the HARDWARE prize were Jean Carlos Zayas and Kaire Williams for their creation of a BB8 robot and the winners of the SOFTWARE prize were Maya Gaylord, Miranda Hull, Carrie Couch, and Liza Molotska for their interactive scratch game, Samventures. The judges expressed being most impressed with the winners’ clear vision and intention to continue the efforts of their teams beyond the hackathon.

The youth in attendance at the hackathon also selected a HACKERS CHOICE winner – Dorian Smith and Ian Smith were selected for their creation of a website through which food suppliers and producers could donate surplus food items to people and organizations in need.

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Although the youth produced creative and innovative projects, many participants surveyed at the end of the hackathon said that their favorite part of the weekend was meeting new people and working together as a team. When asked what youth would tell their peers about Harbor Hacks, one participant said:

“I would tell other youth that if you go [to the hackathon] you will have the best time of your life.”
To see more from the weekend, check out our Harbor Hacks 2017 Album on Flickr.

Thank you, again, to our generous sponsors for Harbor Hacks 2017!

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Another Successful Summer in the Books

It’s hard to believe that we are reaching the conclusion of another busy summer at DHF. This summer we had 3 cycles of Maker Camp for Mid-High students and Elementary students and 3 cycles of Member camps. These camps ran concurrently with our YouthWorks program and many of the youth involved in YouthWorks helped facilitate programming for the camps. The summer concluded with DHF’s inaugural youth hackathon, Harbor Hacks.

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This summer we unveiled two new programming courses: Programming Minecraft with Python and Creative Programming with JavaScript. Programming Minecraft offered youth a chance to hack the Minecraft environment using code and Creative Programming facilitated youth creation of an online Javascript sketchbook using the p5 web editor. Both programming languages are highly desirable in the workplace and require great attention to detail. Nevertheless, our staff were very impressed by the coding projects the youth in these courses were able to craft. Intro to 3D Printing, Arduino, and VectorFab courses were also offered to Mid-High youth. Youth created puppets and marionettes as their capstone projects for the Intro to 3D Printing course, servo greeters in the Arduino course, and mazes in the VectorFab course. Our Mini Makers explored simple machines by creating automatas and learned about gravity, the rotation of the earth, and friction while building their own paint pendulums.

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This summer’s YouthWorks cohort was the largest DHF has seen with 20 youth working as Project Planners, Space Specialists, Cultivation Specialists, Program Assistants in the MegaLab and NanoLab, 3D Assistants, and Documentation Assistants. Their marks can be seen around the space through projects such as the lasercut Bike Parking and Office signs, the pea planter in the courtyard, and the self-watering planters growing squash in the space beside DHF. Program Assistants also helped staff come up with projects for courses such as a JavaScript programmed loading screen and a Python programmed timer displayed on the Minecraft playing screen that counts up to 5 minutes. Said one youth employee, “my favorite part about being at DHF this summer was being able to work with the people around me.”

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We wrapped up the summer with the Harbor Hacks youth hackathon proposed by DHF member, Bella Palumbi. The hackathon was attended by 40 youth, 14 of which were non-regular program participants. The event was a perfect cap to the summer with the productivity of the past three months channeled into 3 days of innovative brainstorming, hacking, and presentation.