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Digital Skills ‘Break Through’ Across Disciplines

92 Students in 24 Majors Participate in Tech Program’s Summer Guild

By Katie Bemb

Four students huddle around a laptop

Break Through Tech's Summer Guild Program gave women and nonbinary people at UMD—from STEM and computing majors and beyond—a chance to explore tech-related careers and skills while developing solutions to problems that matters in their communities.

Photo by Lisa Helfert

The computing field both intrigued and intimidated incoming cinema and media studies major Jennifer Opara-Ndudu. Then she was selected for Break Through Tech’s Summer Guild program.

A national initiative with a site at the University of Maryland, Break Through Tech aims to boost underrepresented gender identity groups in tech education and, ultimately, tech careers. And it wasn’t just computing majors who participated; this year’s Summer Guild program hosted 92 students from 24 majors representing nine UMD colleges and schools.

During Guild, Opara-Ndudu and her team built an app they called “Hangout Hub” to help college students find events matching their interests—all while building their confidence in exploring tech-related careers.

In addition to the block-based coding she and her teammates used to develop the Hangout Hub prototype, Opara-Ndudu said she learned how computing could be applied to fields that “might not initially seem compatible.” That was an important takeaway, as 75% of jobs will require advanced digital skills by 2030—regardless of the field.

“For our second year hosting Guild at UMD, we were really focused on recruiting students across campus who haven’t had the chance to explore tech,” said Kate Atchison, the Break Through Tech DC at UMD site lead and associate director of UMD’s Iribe Initiative for Inclusion and Diversity in Computing. “These students get a low-risk opportunity to get a glimpse into the world of tech and see how they can apply computing skills to their field or interest of choice.”

With three weeklong summer sessions (two virtual and one in person), the incoming freshmen and rising sophomores got paid to delve into design thinking and programming using Thunkable software. Beyond the hard skills, they learned about notable women in tech, educational and career opportunities, and more.

The Guild students were mentored by 40 volunteers from Accenture, Capital One, Dropbox, Google, Mastercard, Microsoft, Salesforce and Verizon who helped guide their ideation and creation processes.

“What I was most impressed by was that the whole app idea came about through a conversation about online identity,” said Kevin George, a software engineer at Google who mentored Opara-Ndudu’s group as it created Hangout Hub. “The themes of trust and privacy were a constant subject of discussion, and this group had great cohesion as they worked to arrive at a solution.”

To drive home this point, the Break Through Tech team partnered with Baltimore-based tech company Fearless to host a virtual field trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Fearless helped the museum’s curators rethink their in-person exhibits in a digital context, and the deep-dive into user-interface design in an online museum context further piqued Opara-Ndudu’s interest in immersive media.

“I’m excited to continue what I have started at Guild,” Opara-Ndudu said. “I intend to stay involved with Break Through Tech as I explore more technical fields associated with computer science and find a way to integrate my findings with my interest in media.”

This fall, Opara-Ndudu is enrolled in “Introduction to Computer Programming via the Web” to keep learning how tech skills can apply to her interests in the arts.

“I am so proud of each student who participated in Guild this year, especially our students like Jennifer who stretched themselves to see how tech skills can be an asset on any career path,” said Elias Gonzalez, Break Through Tech curriculum innovation lead. “It’s so special for us at Break Through Tech to see these students become a part of our community after Guild.”

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.