Submitted From left, MaKayla Drye, Amaya Gabriel, Ronnie Acrie and Abby Horwat of South Allegheny High School are participating in the Pittsburgh Penguins Tech Academy.
South Allegheny High School students Ronnie Acrie, MaKayla Drye, Amaya Gabriel and Abby Horwat earned a spot in the Pittsburgh Penguins Tech Academy Powered by CGI.
A lengthy application process resulted in 100 students from Allegheny, Butler, Washington, Beaver, Armstrong and Westmoreland counties being chosen to form this year’s group.
“It has been really fun to watch those four particular girls grow and blossom into these strong young ladies,” computer graphics teacher Ellen Eyth said. “All four of them are involved in everything. They’re strong personalities, they’re go-getters by nature, so for them to be representing South Allegheny in these big groups of kids from other schools, I’m proud that we’re being represented that way.
The students were able to meet their peers and take a tour of PPG Paints Arena Jan. 19. On Wednesday, they attended the Tech Academy, hearing from several professionals in the Penguins organization and CGI Inc. as well as gaining experience in various areas, including the technology used in Pittsburgh Penguins analytics and research, the control room, mobile ticketing, sports and exercise science and more. Now that students have completed the first day, they will have until Feb. 22 to work with mentors and develop a proposal to solve a list of questions they received.
The group that submits the best proposal in the eyes of executives will be named the CGI Pittsburgh Technologists of the Year and will earn a chance to present its ideas to professionals at the Pittsburgh Penguins Sports and Technology Conference Powered by CGI.
This opportunity is just one part of the vision that Eyth had in mind when she became the sponsor of the high school’s Women in STEM Club last year.
“I am tech certified, so it does lend itself to that because I teach graphics and I teach Python programming to every eighth-grader,” Eyth aid. “I really like it, and they really like it. Women are underrepresented in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, so I like to see those strong little girls get represented in those fields.”
The club itself has been an overwhelming success, with the number of students growing from four to an estimated 23 in just a year. With some donor money, Eyth was able to pick up a mini-drone that the club has flown and coded as it’s codable with Python, and the group also works with a Python-based rat maze that allows students to watch them race.
“It’s always nice to see something grow, and I would love to seek out more opportunities for them to get outside of our building,” Eyth said. “Anytime you can get a kid outside of your school walls and into another environment where there’s learning and collaboration, that’s really where it’s at. Those experiences are everything to our kids.”
South Allegheny’s Women in Stem Club also works with Carnegie Mellon’s Computer Science Academy, a free-to-use, graphics-based Python program and curriculum that allows students to learn a heavily-relevant programming language in today’s world.
Eyth cited services such as Instagram, Spotify and Face-book as examples of sites that use Python in their code. “All the things they love use that, so they’re interested off the bat,” she said.
Eyth repeatedly expressed how proud she is not only of Acrie, Drye, Gabriel and Horwat, but her entire club and all of her students. She made it clear that the hard work of her students afforded her the opportunity to try new things and continue pushing the boundaries of women in technology.
Now, she’s hoping to continue the trend of pushing high school girls to pursue STEM fields.
“It’s a male-dominated field; everyone we work with in (tech education) at the school is male,” Eyth said. “So it’s me and all the guys sitting in the booth every Friday night (for football games), but it’s my girls that are on the roof running the cameras and doing the tricaster.
“You try to entice them into those STEM-related fields, and I think the Python programming introduction in eighth grade with me makes them think, ‘I can do this,’ and ‘I can work in code.’”