Hidden Figures no more: DADA funds LTU computer science and mathematics program for high school girls

SOUTHFIELD—Lawrence Technological University has received $25,000 from the Detroit Auto Dealers Association to target 128 high school junior and senior girls in the fields of computer science and mathematics during the 2023 -2024 academic year.

At LTU, what is called the Hidden Figure Scholars Program recruits high school juniors and seniors from Detroit area high schools and exposes them to research and career pathways in computer science and mathematics. The scholars are mentored by LTU mathematics and computer science faculty, and receive peer mentoring by current LTU students.

The title of the program is a reference to “Hidden Figures,” the 2016 biographical movie based on the lives of three unsung Black women who worked as mathematical calculators—called “computers”—for NASA in the segregated South during the early years of the Space Race.

LTU Robofest Director Elmer Santos (left) shows Hidden Figures Scholars how to compete in the Robofest “Bottle Sumo” competition. LTU photo.

The first group of Hidden Figures Scholars, from Southfield High School for the Arts and Technology, visited the campus for workshops on Nov. 17 and Dec. 8 focused on robotics, featuring a competition under the rules of LTU’s Robofest middle and high school robotics program. Leading the robotics workshop were Elmer Santos, adjunct faculty member in the LTU Department of Mathematics and Computer Science and Robofest director, and LTU students Stephen Arnold and Giovanni DeRose. The students also enjoyed a computer coding workshop delivered by Paula Lauren, LTU assistant professor of mathematics and computer science, and LTU students Annalia Schoenherr and Ira Carter. During the computer coding workshop, the scholars generated a word cloud based on the movie script for Hidden Figures. Said Lauren: “I believe programs like the Hidden Figures Scholars Program are critically important, because they specifically aim to inspire young women to pursue careers in the rewarding field of computing.”

On Feb. 9, the scholars had the opportunity to learn about virtual reality in the new LTU Computational Cognition Laboratory (CCL) from Franco Delogu, LTU associate professor of psychology, a visit pictured at the top of this article. The CCL contains several head-mounted displays for cognition and perception research using virtual and mixed reality.

The scholars are brought to campus by LTU’s Tech Transit vans and are accompanied by Kathy Williams, career development facilitator at Southfield High School for the Arts & Technology. “The Hidden Figures Scholars program has allowed our young women who are interested in Science and Technology an engaging and safe place to work together, explore, and develop their similar interests,” Williams said. “Discovering and using so many kinds of new technologies—robotics, programming, AI, and more—and learning about successful women in technology industries encourages our students to take the next steps in pursuing their dreams.”

Sibrina Collins, executive director of STEM education and associate professor in LTU’s College of Arts and Sciences, is leading the Hidden Figure Scholars Program. “This exciting new LTU initiative is a unique program specifically focused on computer science and mathematics and delivered in a fun and engaging way to these future leaders,” Collins said.

The grant for the program came from the Detroit Auto Dealers Association Charitable Foundation Fund at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. It was one of nine grants totaling $300,000 the DADA fund made to support nonprofits improving the quality of life for children throughout the Detroit region. The fund is supported by proceeds from the North American International Detroit Auto Show Charity Preview.

“The next generation faces immense challenges and holds infinite promise,” said 2023 DADA President Karl Zimmermann. “We are honored to support organizations throughout southeast Michigan that work every day to help these young people build a brighter future.”

Lawrence Technological University is one of only 13 private, technological, comprehensive doctoral universities in the United States. Located in Southfield, Mich., LTU was founded in 1932 and offers more than 100 programs through its Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Business and Information Technology, Engineering, and Health Sciences, as well as Specs@LTU as part of its growing Center for Professional Development. PayScale lists Lawrence Tech among the nation’s top 11 percent of universities for alumni salaries. Forbes and The Wall Street Journal rank LTU among the nation’s top 10 percent. U.S. News and World Report list it in the top tier of the best Midwest colleges. Students benefit from small class sizes and a real-world, hands-on, “theory and practice” education with an emphasis on leadership. Activities on Lawrence Tech’s 107-acre campus include more than 60 student organizations and NAIA varsity sports.

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