The conference app created by 4 Marlborough High School STEM students.

Sometimes the stars align and great things happen.  This month the stars aligned for the MetroWest Conference for Women.  Kelley French, Director of PSW Youth Careers, sits on the board of the conference. At the initial meeting called by Jen Maseda, the organization’s founder and president, board members tossed around ideas for the conference agenda and logistics. Kelley suggested an app. While the suggestion generated genuine enthusiasm, there were no funds to make it happen.

Undaunted, Kelley contacted Brian Geisel of Geisel Software, an app creation company she had worked with in the past. Her vision was an app that would include the conference schedule, an interactive feature to allow attendees to select sessions and build their own customized agenda, and a feedback mechanism where attendees answer three simple questions for the organizers. She wanted to know if STEM students from Marlborough High School would be capable of creating the app. What would it take? What skills do they need? How long would it take? Was he willing to support the project and mentor the students? Armed with answers, she approached the board and said she could make it happen.

PSW’s STEM career specialist, Laura Purutyan, interviewed interested candidates for the summer internship and selected four students to tackle the project. To begin, the students researched existing conference apps, then they created storyboards to visualize the content, and as a last step, they were cross-trained on the three programming languages to be used: Java, CCS, and HTML. Each student came into the internship knowing some programming language, but now all four would know three languages.

At the outset, they decided not to use existing app software, but to write the code from scratch. Writing the code was what excited the students the most. This is exactly what PSW strives for in creating summer internships— an experience that builds confidence and transferable skills at the same time. So the students began to write. And they wrote. And they wrote some more. In all, they wrote a thousand lines of code.

The students wrote a thousand lines of code to create the app from scratch.

In the end, each student worked 240 hours to complete the app, nearly 1,000 hours total, and it’s impressive! Liz Couture from Geisel Software mentored the students and had this to say, ”These young women had me in awe!  They were dedicated, enthusiastic, and willing to learn a great deal to create a professional conference app.”

The students even surpassed their own expectations. Cyra Katoch asserted, “This internship gave me  confidence and made me want to do more in the computer science field. It was an amazing opportunity, and was really fun to do.”  Her coworker, Michelle Nie added, “The entire process was filled with self-learning, trial and error, and a whole lot of tireless bug fixing. Being able to deliver an app that we worked on from the ground up for a client gave us a sense of purpose and pride. Just thinking that hundreds of people will be using our app is extraordinary and exciting.”

Conference app creators pose with Lt. Governor Karen Polito at the conference.

The young women also learned the challenges of real-world work, like dealing with customers. The conference schedule was due mid-July which would allow the students two months to complete the app. The schedule was not ready until mid-August, however, a mere four weeks before the conference. The students took it in stride, dedicating themselves to the project and working long hours to accomplish their goal in the shortened timeframe.

The students had the opportunity to see attendees use their app when they attended the conference.  They took well-deserved pride in their accomplishment, and received recognition from both Jen Maseda, Founder of the MetroWest Conference for Women, and Lt. Governor Karen Polito.  Before addressing the attendees, Polito, a well-known advocate for women in STEM careers, acknowledged the young women and invited them to the State House to speak before the STEM Advisory Council.

The internship was a remarkable learning experience for this group of young women who plan to enter the software programming field themselves someday.